On January 3, 2018 two Indonesian men settled their claims against an American fishing boat captain whom they allege subjected them to forced labor and human trafficking.  In a precedent-setting move for the U.S. commercial fishing industry, the ship’s owner also agreed to a code of conduct and to inform future seamen of their rights under U.S. law, setting the stage for improved business practices across the fishing industry. The lawsuit was also the first such litigation brought under the U.S. Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act.

Case Background

In a September 2016 federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Sorihin (who uses one name) and Abdul Fatah alleged they were promised good jobs at good wages in the U.S. commercial fishing industry. Instead of the promised job at the promised wage, the men were taken to sea and transferred against their will while in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to another ship, the Sea Queen II, where they allege they were subjected to forced labor fishing for tuna, swordfish, and other seafood in the waters around Hawaii and California at less than the promised pay.

The lawsuit alleged that the owner of the ship, Thoai Van Nguyen, verbally abused the plaintiffs and refused to return their passports, telling Sorihin and Fatah that they could not leave the Sea Queen II unless the workers paid him thousands of dollars. The plaintiffs alleged they were forced to perform hazardous work for up to 20 hours per day without adequate protective equipment, and were denied medical treatment for injuries sustained on the job, including wounds to the face and a thumb that was impaled by a machine on board. The plaintiffs eventually took their opportunity to escape when the Sea Queen II docked in San Francisco, California in May 2010.

The plaintiffs were represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC; Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center; and attorney Yenny Teng-Lee. The case is Sorihin and Abdul Fatah v. Thoai Van Nguyen dba Sea Queen II, Case No. 16-5422, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.