【News Transcript】 Loopholes on the Rights of Extralegal Ships Exposed in the Pandemic, Foreign Fishers Unable to Return Home due to Government’s Slow Responses

News Transcript: Loopholes on the Rights of Extralegal Ships Exposed in the Pandemic, Foreign Fishers Unable to Return Home due to Government’s Slow Responses

News Transcript/ 02 June 2020 | 1:53 PM/ Shih Yi-hsiang

During the pandemic, fishers far off the coasts return to its ports with new challenges. Specifically, despite the boat’s investments and owners all as Taiwanese, what was registered on paper was a foreign ship for expedient purposes. Due to the official statuses as foreign ships, any foreign fisher is unable to enter Taiwan, much less their homes. This epidemic has stranded these groups of foreign workers due to the loophole. Registered as a ship from Vanuatu, Da-Wang and three other fishers on the 12th Ship of Jinchun came to ask for help. They claimed that their pleas to return home has had no responses and has even led to them becoming subjected to forced labor. The Foreign Fishermen’s Human Rights Protection Union has stated that Taiwan’s use of registering boats under foreign countries has exposed the problems regarding visa entries for foreign fishers during the pandemic. On the surface, while these ships may be registered under a foreign status, these ships are operated by Taiwanese individuals. Under current quarantine measures for ships, sailors that enter the port must enter a 14 day quarantine before disembarking. However, such measures for foreign fishers have yet to be addressed by any government agency, making their status up in the airs. The slow responses from government units and the continuous denials or blames of responsibilities has made it impossible for these foreign fishers to enter the country nor their own.

These extralegal ships are considered as Flags of Conveniences (FOC), which is defined as a vessel that is registered under a different nationality as its owner. By hanging its vessel under another flag, the ship becomes subjected to another country’s jurisdiction, which usually involves lower registration fees, lower taxes, tax exemptions, or even cheap labor. Often times, the FOC is chosen by its shipowners. Thus, by choosing to register under a country with fewer regulations, the shipowner is less incentivized to implement any international fishery regulations. The union further points out that what the pandemic exposed is only the tip of the iceberg. In reality, extralegal boats have always been a controversial topic in international laws. Due to the lack of transparency, difficulty to regulation, and underreporting of illegal activities, the situation has been referred to as the IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated). Other illegal matters further involve forced labor as well as human trafficking. Such issues have prompted the International Labour Organization (ILO) to host a forum last year in Indonesia on the “Resolution of Marines Fisheries”, which called for countries to stop the extralegal loophole.

Taiwan currently regulates extralegal vessels with the "Regulations on the Management of Fishing Vessels of Non-Chinese Nationalities".

As of May 5 this year, 228 vessels have been registered and reported [1], but the actual number is speculated to be much more. The Taiwanese government often fails to grasp fishing vessel information in a timely manner due to the lack of will to enforce the law, making any enforcement difficult. For example, this regulation regulates that it must first register with the Fisheries Department to obtain a permit before investing in fishing vessels. The Fisheries Department can subsequently revoke the license due to poor management in the country of registry. However, it is not clearly defined what is meant by poor management in the country of registration, which may differ from the country of licensing. The regulations also only regulate fishing vessels involved in illegal fisheries (IUU), but illegal matters such as human trafficking and forced labor are not included in this regulation, which is much looser than the management of Taiwanese fishing vessels. From a Greenpeace Southeast Asia Division report in the December of 2019, the fishing boats employing Da-Wang and the three fishermen were suspected of physical violence, overtime work, and salary deductions. The Fisheries Department transferred the case then to the local prosecutor's office to investigate the suspected violation of the Human Trafficking Prevention Law. However, during the pandemic after the fishing boat returned to port, it departed again, escaping the jurisdiction of law enforcements.

The fisherman who sought help this time has described the working conditions violated seven of the “indicators of forced labor” proposed by the International Labour Organization (ILO), including: physical violence, threats and intimidation, personal restrictions, detention of identification documents, debt service, harsh working and living conditions, and overtime work. A Filipino fisherman from the Vanuatu fishing boat "Da-Wang" said in an interview:

"I have seen people on the same boat being beaten, especially the new crew members. Slippers were thrown on their faces. We work for 20 to 28 hours and eat for only 10 minutes. If we rest for too long, we will be scolded." [2]

In addition, the fisherman also pointed out the improper treatment encountered in Taiwan:

"They (the worker’s agency) asked me not to inform the Taiwanese government. If I said anything, the police would arrest me. I could only go to a nearby convenience store or at the place of accommodation. They locked the door from the outside, and I couldn't go out by myself as if in prison."[3]

The alliance's breach of fishery management during the epidemic has caused foreign fishermen to fail to return to their homes and created a mismanagement of extralegal ships by the Taiwanese government, which costed these fishers of their human rights. The "Foreign Fishermen Human Rights Protection Union" has proposed the following:

For the three fisherman that sought out for help:

  • Cancel the record of the fishers’ illegal entry and forced repatriation, and instead offer to be freely able to return to one’s own country
  • The two fishers of the 12th Ship of Jinchun should be returned of their meal costs by the workers immigration office, or paid by the original employer or worker’s agency.

For fully managed extralegal ships:

  • Abolish the current system of registration for expedient purposes
  • During the transition, the government must provide:
    • Revise current regulations to the investment in foreign workers by including basic necessities to the conditions of the workers, increase the supervision of related regulations, increase the transparency of extralegal ships, halt the investment in extralegal ships to ensure policy efficiency
    • In the process of domestic legalization of the International Labour Organization's "Fishing Work Convention" (C 188), the current extralegal ship system should be reviewed to comply with Taiwan’s labor and human rights related regulations during the transition period.
    • Re-evaluate the current agricultural and fishery regulations regarding extralegal ship registration and overseas foreign workers
  • Increase border control and immigration agencies of related incidences in human trafficking in such related cases

Video Link: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/1/folders/19Xtxb3eotIM-09JnfcjYHP6yKnAjmDe4


[1] Source came from the Fishery Department’s list of FOC

[2] Excerpt from an interview in the video clip titled “Force Labor”

[3] Excerpt from an interview in the video clip titled “Improper Treatment”


Members and contact information of the "Foreign Fishermen Human Rights Protection Union":

TAHR Taiwan Association for Human Rights / Secretary General Shih Yi-hsiang
YMFU Yilan County Fishery Workers Trade Union / Secretary General Li Lihua
SPA Taoyuan City Mass Service Association / Director of Asylum Seeking Centers Wang Yingda
TIWA Taiwan International Workers Association /Researcher Chen Xiulian
Greenpeace / Director of the Ocean Fisheries Project Chen Yuyu
Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) / Taiwan Ocean Project Senior Director Qiu Shaoqi
Media Contact / Director of Greenpeace Media Promotion Chen Qiongyu