Forced Labour Trap in Indonesian Fishing Vessel
Forced Labour Trap in Indonesian Fishing Vessel

A few days after Idul Fitri or early April 2022, Anwar was unhappy. The 39-year-old man was upset and restless because he had no work and no money at the time, while the need for bread was in front of his eyes. Anwar then searched for information about job vacancies through Facebook and obtained information about employment opportunities as a fishing vessel crew. In the advertisement on the Facebook page, it sounded fishing vessel for squid in The Oceanic Fishing Port of Muara Baru, Jakarta, looking for fishing vessel crews with facilities: a salary of around IDR 4-5 million (US$ 263) per month, free meals, coffee, cigarettes while on board, affordable shelter, given loans and employment contracts for four months.


“I’m thrilled with the vacancies because the salaries and facilities offered are very attractive,” said Anwar. The requirement is simple; only a Citizenship Card (KTP) and Family Card (KK). If Anwar is interested, then there will be a sending of a broker (calo or tekong) who will pick up a candidate from the original place to the Muara Baru. Anwar applied for the job and was asked to prepare because there would be a car that would pick him up. Picked up by public transport, Anwar departed from his hometown of Surabaya, West Java. The distance between Surabaya and Jakarta is approximately 780 km, with a journey time of 9 hours.

Maruli, 29 years old, told a similar story. After he had his contract terminated in an East Jakarta refill water agency, Maruli struggled to find enough food for his family after his abrupt discharge. He conducted a job search and discovered job openings on Facebook. A Facebook group offers positions with excellent pay. The salary promises to be IDR 12 million (US$791) per month. The advertisement promised food, coffee, and cigarettes while working on board. The required conditions are very simple, only KTP and Family Card. Without thinking, Maruli contacted the contact number on the FB page. On April 23, 2022, Maruli departed to the mess in the district of Jakarta North using online transportation (Ojek online). 

Anwar and Maruli met in a temporary shelter in the Penjaringan region of Northern Jakarta. They lived in a mess for a month, but it was uncertain where the broker would place them. During that time, the broker restricted his movements. They also could not use their phone freely, and even weekly worship must be supervised by a broker (tekong). “The broker continued to monitor and accompany all potential crew members when outside the mess, so they don’t run away,” Maruli said.

Brokers several times offered Maruli to vessel owners at Muara Angke Harbour. However, the vessel owners rejected the attempt because they only accepted experienced fishing crew candidates. Until the recruiting staff informed May 20, 2022, Maruli and Anwar that they would be working on the fishing vessel in the port of Muara Baru. The fishing vessel will sail at the end of May 2022. While waiting for the vessel to depart, Maruli and Anwar had already started working on the ship. As land workers, they work preparing plywood tools, washing clothes, and loading logistics or supplies for sailing needs.

One day before departure, Maruli, Anwar, and dozens of other fishing crews received a loan of IDR 6 million (US$395) from the ship’s owner to give to the family. But from the money of IDR 6 million, Maruli only received IDR 800.000 (US$ 52), and Anwar received only IDR 700.000 (US$ 46). The broker has deducted the balance because it is money to replace their living expenses for one month in a mess.

“Brokers took money to replace the transportation costs, buy the fishing rods, sponsors, people in charge, job provider services, and my living expenses for one month in a mess,” Maruli said. According to him, there is no evidence that brokers have calculated the down payment deductions. Brokers convey down payment deductions only orally or verbally. It is experienced similarly to Maruli’s shipmates, who departed via brokers.

The long-awaited day arrived. On May 29, 2022, they were directed to and boarded a ship that docked at Nizam Zachman Oceanic Port. The vessel weighing 130 GT, shows the words KM Nudi III in the body. On the same date, the vessel was moving toward a fishing ground in the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka. In total, 38 fishing crew members were on board the vessel KM Nudi III. Most of them are crew members who have yet to experience going to sea or catching fish. Before leaving, Maruli and his friends did not receive any briefings or training from the company or the skipper. In addition, the fishing vessel crews also still need to get a work contract. Maruli and other crew members asked about this on the day of departure. However, instead of receiving certainty, Maruli received insults and harsh words from the captain.

Not only that, but the vessel owners did not do a health check on the crews to ensure they were in good condition during sailing. “We are confused and afraid to know the treatment and conditions on the ship,” Maruli said. This condition contradicts and does not comply with what is already stipulated in the Regulation of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries No. 33/2021 on the management of fishing vessels. The Code of Conduct No. 33/2021 stipulates that the conditions for becoming a Fishing Vessel crew must have a seafarer’s book, competence, Maritime Labour Agreement (PKL), and be registered in social security.

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The working conditions on board

The working conditions on board are also far from decent word. The crew members who worked at KM. Nudi III said that they eat modestly, limited medicines, have makeshift beds, and drink water that is yellow. During their work, the crew never went to land. For about eight months, they worked fishing to explore the Indian Ocean.

During the sailing, the catch will be loaded onto a collector ship to be sold on land. Collecting vessels and transporting cargo also provides logistics to fishing vessel crew, such as rice, cigarettes, coffee, and other foods. Ironically, the facilities on board, such as coffee, snacks, and cigarettes promised free to fishing vessel crew, should be obtained by buying the crews. Only rice does not need to be paid. The reality is different from what Maruli gets in the job vacancy advertisement: cigarettes, coffee, and snacks are provided by the ship’s owner.  The fishing crew will usually make debts first to get a cup of coffee, cigarettes, and snacks. Maruli explains that this activity (usually called Grosiran) is a business of skipper and representatives. The sale price of the goods on the boat is far above the normal market price. “The price is up. A cigarette filter pack usually costs Rp 21.000 (US$1,39), but they are sold to the crew for Rp 25.000 (US$ 1,65). Coffee for Rp10.000 (US$ 0,66) per sachet but in the ship, it rises to Rp20.000 (US$ 1,32) per sachet,” said Maruli.

Figure 1 Facilities and conditions of work Fishing vessel Crew on the vessel KM Nudi III

Also, on the sidelines of the break time, the fishing crews usually fish as a side job. The fishing results are later sold to ship owners as additional income. The result will be sold to the ship’s owner through a skipper representative at a predetermined price. “The price varies depending on the type of fish, such as skipjack for Rp 5.500 (US$ 0,36) per kg, marlin fish for Rp 10.000 (US$ 0,66) per kg, and Rp 3.000 (US$ 0,20) per kg for swordfish,” explains Maruli. 

But the fishing vessel crews appear to complain about this because it is also an additional burden. The captain asked the crews to fish as much as they could during the break. If a crew member does not want to fish, the representative of the captain will not give the Grosiran to the fishing vessel crew. “I often experience it myself. I didn’t fish then because I wanted to rest tired after lifting the net. But when I wanted to take Grosiran, the deputy even cursed me with harsh words and then scribbled on my body with a pen,” Maruli story. 

It doesn’t stop there; Maruli’s suffering continues. On or while working the Maruli vessel, they often experience intimidation, violence, and even death threats. He had never worked on a ship before; this was his first experience. Working on a boat is a nightmare. One day a representative of the captain approached him at the same time and suddenly beat him and kicked Maruli’s face until it bled. After that, Maruli was threatened to be killed by a representative with his assembly weapon. “I don’t know what went wrong. Suddenly, I was beaten up and threatened to be shot with an assembly weapon,” Maruli said. They complained about working or resting hours and eating and drinking conditions on board. 

Figure 4 Yellow drinking water consumed by fishing vessel crew

Life on the boat was not as beautiful as it seemed. Anwar mentioned that while on board, they only ate fish and rice for each breakfast and dinner. While on the vessel, Anwar rarely received vegetables, so skin diseases also approached. Repeated foods such as fish and rice make them susceptible to disease. “The drinking water on board is sourced from seawater distilled into fresh water,” said Anwar. Drinking water on ships is often contaminated by ship rust because it is stored in uncleaned places. “The water that has turned yellowish has been contaminated with rusty hatch pipes, “Anwar said said. Ironically, when the fishing vessel crews drank water that was not proper, while the skipper had a clean water reservoir that he kept specifically on the ship.

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After sailing

Since carrying out eight-month fishing operations from 29 May 2022, KM Nudi III has finally flown to the fishing port of Oceanic Fishing Port Muara Baru Jakarta on 20 January 2023. The total catch amounted to 400 tons. After casting the catch for several days, Maruli was called by the skipper. Maruli gets an explanation of the salary details that he will receive. According to the calculation, income, and debt for eight months of work, Maruli did not receive a salary, even a debt of Rp 300.000 (US$ 19,79). Fortunately, it still feels better for Anwar. “Maybe because I caught more fish, I was still given a cash wage of Rp 9.8 million (US$ 646),” Anwar stated.

National Coordinator for Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, Moh Abdi Suhufan, said that Indonesia’s government had not fully protected the domestic fishing vessel crew. “The rules for managing fishing vessel crews do not contain the process of recruiting and supervising fishing vessel crews while working, while that is a sensitive point for violations,” Abdi said.

Figure 3 Notes details of Maruli

As a result, recruiting through many brokers occurs and develops without supervision, causing losses to fish vessel crews and possibly ship or company owners. He suggested that the regulations on the management of domestic fishing vessel crews must be updated by including aspects of fair recruitment and supervision of fishing vessel crews by the manpower and fisheries authorities at the central and regional levels.

Manager of the National Fishers Center, DFW Indonesia, Imam Trihatmadja, said that during January 2023, his party received three complaints from fishing vessel crews with a total of 7 victims who indicated they were victims of brokering which led to forced labor practices, worker exploitation, and even human trafficking. “Fishing vessel crews reported the incident from the Jakarta Muara Baru fishing port, the largest and most modern fish landing and distribution center in Indonesia,” said Imam. He added that in 2022, the number of complaints that entered the NFC was 25 reports, with a total of 86 victims.

Disclaimer :

Maruli, Anwar and KM Nudi III in this report are pseudonyms. Reports of victim complaints have been submitted to the National Fishers Center and have been referred to the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries on 7 February 2023.

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