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Indonesian Fishermen Claim Exploitation

Indonesian fishermen working on European flagged tuna vessels that dock at New Zealand ports have made claims of exploitative working conditions and unfairly low pay. Speaking to Michael Field, a Fairfax New Zealand journalist, some Indonesian workers said: “We know that we are the poorest paid of all the fishermen in the world.”

Interviewing eight Indonesians in a motel room in Whangarei, NZ, just a small distance from two docked European-flagged tuna fishing boats, Michael Field heard stories of poor working environments and unsanitary conditions. The crew explained that they were not allowed to drink fresh water and instead took water from a rusted ship tank. “It’s yellow and it smells,” one fisherman told him. They explained that the Spanish officers on board drank bottled water.


The vessels “Carmen Tere” and “Artico”, owned by Angelsonia Pesca SL in Spain operate out of Auckland and Napier. According to Field, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) said they were licensed by their flag states to take tuna and swordfish outside the NZ EEZ. The Indonesian crew members agreed that they were illegally fishing for bluefin near to New Zealand, showing pictures of large bluefin tuna on their phones. “If the patrol comes, we dump it,” one of them said.

The workers said to Field that they earned USD 325 per month – below the New Zealand minimum wage, showing him copies of their working contracts on mobile phones. They stated that they were fed the same meal each day of fish bait – frozen pieces of mackerel and squid, while officers ate meat, fresh fish and pasta.

According to Field, New Zealand authorities play a part in the arrival of the Indonesian fishermen as they allow crews to be flown into Auckland from Indonesia, issuing visitor visas to allow them to move from airport to the ship. The NZ government has said that it will put a stop to this exploitative behavior by reflagging foreign vessels to New Zealand flags by 2016, so that crews will be subject to New Zealand wages and conditions. The bill has not yet been passed.

Confirmed by MPI deputy director general, Scott Gallacher, in August, one of the vessels was boarded by the NZ Navy. He says it was on the high seas, out of the NZ EEZ. The crew explained that there was bluefin tuna on board, but it was not found. They said when they reached Auckland, the catch was transferred to a container “and sent to Spain.”

Gallacher said that MPI monitors “Carmen Tere” regularly and “There was no evidence of non-compliance by the vessel.”

Trips can take men out into the Pacific for 60 to 80 days at a time. The crew explained to Field that they work around 16 hours straight with no break and then are given an hour or two to rest in between.

Accusations that the ship was fishing in the NZ EEZ and had dumped illegally caught fish, were put to MPI. The ministry responded: “MPI would welcome any evidence Mr. Field may be able to provide regarding the vessel fishing while transiting the NZ EEZ and the vessel dumping fish.”

The owner of the two vessels, Angelonsia Pesca, has a small office in Lugo, Spain. When contacted, Field explained that the man that answered said it was untrue that the crews were underpaid. Field reported that in response to a suggestion that the crews were paid well below NZ wages, the man said: “The ship is Spanish flag.”

Fairfax journalist, Michael Field
talks in a video about his investigation into foreign fishing boats that dock at NZ ports.