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13 Sep 2021

Mongabay and Tansa

Worked To Death: How a Chinese tuna juggernaut crushed its Indonesian workforce

"Worked To Death: How a Chinese tuna juggernaut crushed its Indonesian workforce", 14 September 2021

Abuse of Southeast Asian migrant workers are rife across the fleet of one of China’s largest tuna fishing companies, according to a cross-border investigation. [...]

According to interviews with four witnesses, Sepri, Ari and the other Indonesians on their boat were beaten, worked around the clock, fed rotten food and given dirty drinking water. Over time, some of them developed unknown illnesses characterized by distended body parts. The swelling started in their legs and, for some, crept all the way up to their necks and faces. In December 2019, Sepri, struggling to breathe, collapsed on the deck of the boat and died. He was buried at sea. Ari and two other deckhands died in a similar fashion shortly thereafter. 

The boat, the Long Xing 629, is owned and operated by Dalian Ocean Fishing (DOF), a Chinese company operating in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans that has claimed to be China’s biggest supplier of sashimi-grade tuna to Japan.

But the deaths on the Long Xing 629 were not isolated incidents. [...]

Our findings indicate that the conditions said to be present on the Long Xing 629 — including substandard food, possibly dangerous drinking water, and excessive working hours — were the rule rather than the exception on DOF’s boats, crewed by hundreds of deckhands from Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, the Philippines. 

Almost every deckhand we interviewed said they had been made to perform hard physical labor for at least 18 hours per day, seven days a week. If there were a lot of fish, they could be worked for up to two days straight without rest. 

Besides rice and noodles, the deckhands’ main staple was the bait fish with which they threaded their tuna hooks. They also got bits of chicken, often slimy and discolored, and meager quantities of old, wilted vegetables. [...]