An Auckland University study, “Not in our waters, surely?” was released last night. It details a gruesome list of human rights abuses, crimes, and breaches of labour law being carried out abroad the slave ships contracted by our quota-holders to harvest our fish. Now, the government is moving to deport the prime witnesses before they can testify.
Quotaholders employ these foreign charter vessels to do their fishing for them because it’s cheaper and they don’t want to invest in the capital of owning fishing vessels themselves. Incredibly, this cheap-skate attitude is coming mostly from the iwi quotaholders, who let nearly all their fish be taken by foreigners rather than employing their own people, as was the intended outcome of the Treaty settlements.
The aging contracted vessels have been sinking in our waters and the crews dying. Recently one of the crews walked off their ship, the Oyang 75, in Lyttleton claiming is was a virtual slave ship. Here are some of the reports from that boat and others:
“Officers are vicious bastards … factory manager just rapped this 12 kg stainless steel pan over his head, splits the top of his head, blood pissing out everywhere…,” one informant told the university.
“I told the Master can’t leave him cause he’s bleeding all over the squid. He said ‘oh no no he’s Indonesian no touchy no touchy’… Took him to the bridge and third mate said ‘Indonesian no stitchy no stitchy’. I ended up giving over 26 stitches … bit of a mess.”
An Indonesian fisherman who survived a Korean boat was quoted in the study saying they were trapped on the boat: “We were trapped into modern slavery … in the old days slaves were not paid and chained, now we are paid and trapped … but we are worse than slaves.”
A New Zealand official quoted in the study said: “A floating freezer … absolutely appalling conditions just like a slum … there are definitely human rights abuses out there, they are slave ships.”
Another said: “Live like rats.”
Foreign officers also sexually abused Indonesians at sea, according to the report.
A fisherman said: “The captain asked one by one to give him a massage … from head to toe … we don’t want to do it, but I am pressured to do it… every day.”
Said another: “Galley boy, good looking boy on a Korean boat was raped by four Chinese crew who got him….”
Why are the New Zealand companies, mostly iwi, that employ these fishing vessels allowing this? To save a bit of cash, of course:
The study revealed that a foreigner on an FCV can expect to earn between $6700 and $11,600 a year while a foreigner working on a New Zealand-flagged fishing boat would earn between $60,000 and $80,000.
After months of inaction, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson and Fisheries Minister have launched a ministerial inquiry but, before it can get underway, immigration has decided to deport the crew of the Oyang 75 as early as tomorrow. The order to deport them came from the top, apparently from Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson.
In Parliament yesterday, Wilkinson shamefully tried to avoid answering questions by playing technical games over which portfolio she was answering as. She then lied and said that no deportation decisions had been made.
Before the end of question time, Labour learned that the crew could be deported as early as Saturday and sought to urgently question the minister on why she was sending the main witnesses to slave-fishing in New Zealand waters out of the country before their evidence could be heard by the inquiry. National, shamefully, blocked that question on technical grounds.
Over at Red Alert, Labour is suggesting that Wilkinson will have to resign for misleading the House. She should but the bigger issue is making sure those crew members are not deported. Perhaps a court could put an injunction in place but, if the government is the one sending them away before they can testify to its own inquiry, it’s hard to see who would push for that injunction.
These men’s stories need to be told. They could stop the horrendous activities that our quotaholders are allowing in our waters in the name of saving a few bucks. National, however, seems determined to sweep the issue under the carpet.
Update: Wilkinson refused to waive a $550 fee to let the 32 seamen appeal their deportation.