Indonesian crew who worked on Chinese fishing vessel still unpaid

Indonesian crew members repatriated in May after working on a Chinese fishing vessel are still without pay, 18 months after they first boarded the ill-fated Long Xing 629, in Busan, South Korea, for a two-year contract.

The contract was cut short in December as four workers started falling ill and dying after complaining of severe swelling and breathing difficulties.

Last Friday, lawyers for six of 14 surviving crew members repatriated from Busan said they had rejected an offer from their recruiting agency PT Alfira Perdana Jaya to pay out a little more than half of their contract - US$4,300 (S$5,900).

The other eight have been paid through their recruiting agencies, according to the crew's lawyer, Mr Pahrur Dalimunthe, managing partner of Jakarta firm DNT Lawyers.

So far this year, 18 Indonesian crew members have died on foreign fishing vessels, according to an official with Indonesia's foreign ministry.

But the Long Xing 629 stands out for its many deaths that occurred outside of a serious accident.

Four died out of a 21-man Indonesian crew. Three were dropped off on Samoa with plane tickets back to Jakarta and were not represented in the lawsuit.

Videos taken of the burial at sea in March were widely shared in Indonesia's news outlets. Three of the men were buried at sea. The remains of the fourth crew member were repatriated to Indonesia from Busan where he had died shortly after the crew had returned from sea in April.

Indonesia is pressing China to make witnesses from Dalian Ocean Fishing Co, which owns the fishing vessel, available for questioning. The company sells tuna and other deep-sea species to its domestic market and to Japan.

Indonesian police have charged six managers from the three agencies, including PT Alfira that supplied crew to Dalian to work on the Long Xing 629 and other ships, with human trafficking. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and fines of 600 million rupiah (S$56,000).

The difficulty in getting full payment - roughly US$7,000 - from the recruiting agency underscores the vulnerabilities faced by workers on foreign vessels which can spend months at sea far from cellular service or consular protection.

With no recourse to lawyers and often desperate for cash, returning crew settle for partial payments, said Mr Pahrur.

Crew members of the Long Xing 629 interviewed by The Straits Times were contracted for monthly amounts of up to US$400 - triple what they could hope to earn at home, though a fraction of the value of their catch of yellowfin tuna and shark.

On a single day, the Long Xing 629 would haul in about 500kg of tuna - worth US$4,300 at market prices, according to Mr Rizky Fauzan Alvian, 27, a senior crew member.

Crew members told The Straits Times they had received very little, or no, money while they were at sea. Mr Nur Adiwijaya, 20, employed by PT Alfira, said he received only US$120 from his recruiter.

The crew worked 18 hours a day, were fed expired food, had only salty water to drink and were at times physically attacked by the Chinese senior crew, the crew members said.

Mr Rizky said: "I just obey and work and not think of running away. I was afraid I wouldn't get paid."

Dalian Ocean Fishing Co and PT Alfira did not respond to requests for comment.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story said the Long Xing 629 would haul in about 500 tonnes of tuna in a day. This is incorrect. It should be 500kg. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2020, with the headline 'Indonesian crew who worked on Chinese fishing vessel still unpaid'. Print Edition | Subscribe