Slavery at Sea

On 25 January 2014, Scottish Express carried a story, “Boat Slave Shame of Fishing Industry” which details slavery at sea, the continued practice of bringing in foreign workers to man the fishing fleets and then isolating and effectively enslaving these workers.


The work of SOCA

A series of police raids by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency in both England and Scotland last year led to at least 50 people, mostly Filipinos, being freed from fishing boats.

Police Scotland are thought to have become involved after three Filipinos escaped from a scallop dredger at a harbour in the north-west Highlands.

Indonesians, Ghanaians and, more recently, Lithuanians and Romanians, are also thought to be working in appalling conditions off both the east and west coasts.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Hollis is leading the Scottish end of the investigation. He said: “We’re working with police forces across the country to raise awareness of the problem, and increasing numbers of victims are now coming forward and asking for help. But the numbers so far recovered are only the tip of the iceberg.”

The manner in which the workers are brought to the UK (or other countries for that matter) are the tried and true methodologies of the human trafficking underworld: Lured by what may seem to be legitimate employment prospects, promising a step up from whatever their local conditions. Upon arrival, the bait and switch takes place and they are isolated, put to work for little or no pay.

EU boats off of Africa

Many are lured to Britain by seemingly legitimate agencies promising good income but on arrival they are effectively treated like slaves with some forced to work until the end of their contract before they receive any pay.  And lest you think this is unique to the UK. In 2010, the Guardian (UK) ran an expose on the European fishing industry, “‘Slavery’ uncovered on trawlers fishing for Europe

Shocking evidence of conditions akin to slavery on trawlers that provide fish for European dinner tables has been found in an investigation off the coast of west Africa.

Forced labour and human rights abuses involving African crews have been uncovered on trawlers fishing illegally for the European market by investigators for an environmental campaign group.

The Environmental Justice Foundation found conditions on board including incarceration, violence, withholding of pay, confiscation of documents, confinement on board for months or even years, and lack of clean water.

New Zealand dissected

And lest you think this is unique to the UK/EU, Bloomberg in association with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University in a series of detailed pieces have shown the “Slavery at Sea” in 2012 which detailed the conditions on New Zealand fishing vessels operated by Sanford Limited and their use of “debt bondage” to hold workers in place. This resulted in a number of retailers walking their seafood supply-chain back to the point of origin. Sanford Limited issued a statement in February 2013 which confirmed they had identified 100 workers had been underpaid to the tune of $885,000.

Additional reading:

ILO: Caught at Sea

Burgessct:  Caught at Sea