Today The Aucklander exposes the plight of Indonesian fishermen who jumped ship, claiming inhumane conditions on the Korean-owned Shin Ji in New Zealand waters. Sophie Bond speaks with Auckland academics about a blight on our fishing industry.
Dr Christina Stringer and Glenn Simmons, from the University of Auckland Business School's department of management and international business, are researching human rights abuses occurring in our waters. In particular, they hope to raise awareness of the Shin Ji's and Oyang 75's crews.
Dr Stringer says they have uncovered evidence of disturbing practices aboard foreign-chartered fishing vessels. Their research examines which institutions are responsible for the working conditions of this vulnerable and largely invisible workforce.
"Whilst the minimum employment conditions for crew are outlined in the 2006 Code of Practice for Fishing Crew, the reality is an institutional void exists," says Dr Stringer. "Our research began on August 18 last year with the sinking of the Oyang 70 (see panel) and in the subsequent days what emerged about the levels of abuse on board the vessels.
"We initially undertook some interviews with industry professionals and crew and that painted a very dismal picture and raised a number of important issues. Then in May, the Shin Ji crew went on strike and our research gained momentum."
Mr Simmons, a Ph D candidate, says he and Dr Stringer were aware of historical problems with the Shin Ji before the walkout. "In 2009 an entire crew walked off the Shin Ji in Auckland over non-payment of wages.
"For us, talking to the Shin Ji crew confirmed what we had previously found in the industry. Suddenly we were in a unique position to get a more in-depth understanding of this particular crew and the conditions they were working under.
"By raising the profile of this marginalised but important workforce, we hope to raise awareness of their plight and the insidious and disturbing practices occurring not just in New Zealand's waters but also in Indonesia."
Mr Simmons hopes the fishermen will receive the entitlements they deserve. "Payment is absolutely crucial for them if they are to return home and have any meaningful future. "It is unlikely these folk will ever be able to work on another fishing vessel. They will be blacklisted and subjected to financial penalties."
Government agencies need to realise this is not a simple wage dispute, he says.
"These people are for all intents and purposes operating under slave-like conditions. There's no question about that. The foreign-crewed charter vessel business model as it stands is not something we should be proud of, nor is it sustainable."
Through a translator the pair have transcribed the contracts of several Indonesian crew. "It's not uncommon for the contracts to say crews should be 'completely submissive and obedient'," says Dr Stringer.
"Generally they get around US$240 per month. The payment goes to the crewing agent [in Indonesia] and the agent gives a percentage to the families.
"The balance is retained and may be paid out upon the crew's return home, following completion of the contract. If they terminate their agreement they lose their collateral and can be fined between US$2000 and US$10,000 for breach of contract."
Mr Simmons says the way crews are treated is shameful and needs to be fully exposed. "How has this been going on for so long without authorities knowing about it?
"At this time that remains unanswered."