On January 3, 2018, two Indonesian men, who were allegedly subjected to human trafficking and forced labor on a U.S. commercial fishing vessel in the Pacific Ocean and who had filed the first-ever human trafficking lawsuit against the U.S. commercial fishing industry under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), entered into a precedent setting settlement.
The settlement is a model for the U.S. commercial fishing industry for proactively addressing the pervasive problem of human trafficking and slavery in the industry.
As part of the settlement, the Defendant agreed to distribute an information flyer, called, “Rights and Responsibilities While Working on Board the Sea Queen II and Sea Queen IIA,” outlining civil rights and protections guaranteed under U.S. law, as well as help line and legal assistance contact information.
In addition, the Defendant agreed to a code of conduct that provides protections for current and future seamen aboard his vessel, including guaranteed access to passports, medical attention for injuries, minimum rest hours and appropriate protective clothing at no cost, the right to terminate the contract early without incurring penalties, and employment contracts in the employee’s own language. The code of conduct and the information flyer were developed by the Plaintiffs with assistance from Cohen Milstein, co-counsel, and human rights and immigration experts.
The settlement and lawsuit are significant and precedent setting steps in the battle against human trafficking and forced labor in the commercial fishing industry, a problem that is increasing world-wide, according to the investigative reports conducted by Associated Press (see, e.g., “Hawaiian Seafood Caught by Foreign Crews Confined on Boats,” September 8, 2016), the New York Times and the International Labour Organization (ILO). In November 2017, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced new legislation (S.2071 – “Sustainable Fishing Workforce Protection Act”) in the U.S. Senate in order to protect migrant seamen, like the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
In a September 2016, Cohen Milstein and co-counsel, on behalf of the plaintiffs Sorihin (who uses one name) and Abdul Fatah filed the first TVPRA and ATS lawsuit involving human trafficking and forced labor in the U.S. commercial fishing industry in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Sorihin and Abdul Fatah, two Indonesian villagers, alleged that Defendant Thoai Van Nguyen, the owner and captain of the long-line fishing vessel, Sea Queen II, contracted with offshore recruiters to obtain foreign crewmembers for the Sea Queen II. The recruiters promised Sorihin and Abdul Fatah good jobs at good wages in exchange for the payment of substantial recruitment fees. But instead of the promised job at the promised wage on the promised commercial fishing vessel, the men were taken to sea and, while in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, transferred against their will to the Sea Queen II. On the Sea Queen II, Plaintiffs were paid less than promised in their written contract, forced to perform hazardous work for up to 20 hours a day without adequate protective equipment, and denied medical treatment for injuries sustained on the job. Defendant 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 that he knew they did not have.
The plaintiffs escaped the Sea Queen II when it 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.