A human trafficking lawsuit just settled between two Indonesian fishermen and an American boat owner will not impact nearly 800 other foreign fishermen in Hawaii’s fleet who are banned from leaving boats when the vessels reach shore, industry officials say.
The 130 commercial fishing boats based in Honolulu rely almost entirely on foreign crews from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific countries who have no legal standing and never set foot in the U.S.
An Associated Press investigation into the Hawaii fleet in 2016 found men living in squalor on some boats, forced to use buckets instead of toilets, suffering sores from bed bugs and sometimes lacking sufficient food.
While many workers covet the jobs which pay more than they could earn back home, two Indonesian fishermen — Sorihin, who uses just one name, and Abdul Fatah — ran away from their boat, the Sea Queen II, in 2009 when it was unloading its catch at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Eventually, federal officials issued each of them a special visa designated for victims of human trafficking, and in 2015 they sued the boat owner, claiming they were denied medical treatment, verbally abused and threatened with hefty fees if they tried to leave. The settlement was disclosed Wednesday.
The settlement, for an undisclosed sum, requires workers on the Sea Queen II and its sister vessel to receive detailed codes of conduct outlining their rights and ways to get help if needed. Crews on the two boats must have at least 77 hours of rest a week and access to their passports.
It doesn’t impact all of the other commercial fishing boats in Hawaii and California, but attorney Agnieska Fryszman said it should act as a wakeup call to the industry.
“There’s simply no excuse for turning a blind eye to human trafficking, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to hold others in the industry accountable,” she said.
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