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Plight of fishers in East and South East Asia

WelCom September 2016:

International News

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) observes World Maritime Day on 29 September. This year’s theme is, ‘Shipping: indispensable to the world’. In June, National Co-ordinator of the New Zealand Catholic Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), Fr Jeff Drane SM of Wellington, attended the AoS conference for fishers for the Asia region.

The Apostleship of the Sea in East and South East Asia region held a conference on Fishers, from 20 to 24 June in Bangkok, Thailand. Mrs Rose Celeste and I represented New Zealand along with the Oceania regional co-ordinator Sr Mary Leahy. The presence of Fr Colum Kelly from AoS Great Britain and Ms Hilary Chester from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made it a global event.

The plight of fishers and their vulnerability of becoming victims of human trafficking is a hot issue. Delegates from Asia learned that an estimated 4‒6 million refugees are on the move. With more countries like New Zealand signing the UN Maritime Labour Convention, the abuses and injustices in the maritime sector are reduced. But the plight of fishers hasn’t been addressed adequately by this convention as fishers are not strictly classified as seafarers. Efforts are underway to ratify the ILO Fishing Convention 188, which is applicable to all types of commercial fishing and establishes minimum standards that protect fishers in all aspects of their work. It sets international standards for safety on board fishing vessels, food, accommodation and medical care at sea, employment practices, insurance and liability.

The conference delegates visited a fishing village where a combined AoS, Caritas, Marist Brothers and Archdiocese of Bangkok project runs a 1000-pupil school in Samut Sakron, 50km south of Bangkok on the Thailand coast. The families are economic migrants from Myanmar. Project members act as advocates, provide food, clothing, housing, and education for the children in Thai, English and Myanmese. On weekends the same skills are taught to parents working during the week at local fish-processing factories. AoS workers help the migrants process applications for residency in Thailand.

The conference progressed the global strategy developed at the AoS conference in Sydney earlier this year, and agreed to:

  • call on countries engaged in fishing to admit their fishers are vulnerable and protect them by suitable legislation;
  • raise public awareness inside all countries with fishers about their vulnerability and get funding to inform the people of the problem;
  • work to eliminate forced labour and trafficking;
  • network with agencies [in our case Maritime NZ, Maritime Unions, NZ Government and other NGO’s] to eliminate this injustice;
  • get our local governments to ratify ILO Fishing C188;
  • do all of the above in a holistic way to address also the needs of the families of fishers.

In July, a meeting in Rome organised by the US Embassy to the Holy See in conjunction with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops focused on maritime trafficking and modern slavery at sea.

The meeting shone the spotlight on the global scourge that violates the human dignity of labourers at all stages of the seafood supply chain and aquaculture industries.

Kari Johnstone, Deputy Director of the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, was at the Rome meeting to connect with the USCCB’s advisory group called COMPASS – a coalition of organisations and ministries promoting the abolition of slavery at sea.

Johnstone said the meeting brought together people from both Catholic and non-Catholic organisations.

‘We are thrilled Pope Francis has brought his voice with such moral clarity to this issue that is indeed one of the most challenging of our time.’

She spoke of the incredible and precious work so many nuns and religious do in combatting trafficking and in assisting the victims.

‘Missionaries and nuns are often providing a lot of services to victims. So in many cases the first person a victim, for example the victims at sea, come in contact with are the people who are doing pastoral work in the ports.’

Church personnel ‘have been playing a critical role and I think increasingly doing so’ through coalitions like COMPASS that bring different players and expertise to the table, Johnstone said.

‘The pope’s own voice and priority on this, hands down, I think has opened tremendous doors.’

Source: Catholic New Service