Dozens of Indonesian fishermen whose vessels were impounded by South African authorities for alleged illegal fishing say they were forced to work in slave-like conditions.
The 75 fishermen were stuck on board seven trawlers off the coast of Cape Town for three months until local officials allowed them to come ashore Saturday.
Authorities arrested the ships’ captains and initially refused to let the crewmen enter South Africa because they lacked legal documents.
The officials eventually permitted the group to come ashore after South African media reported that the fishermen had little food as they remained trapped in a Cape Town bay.
One fisherman told the French news agency that he worked long hours for no pay while his trawler was at sea.
“Conditions are very, very bad. Sometimes we worked like a slave in here. I would start from three in the morning and finish working at two in the night. So I would have sleep for one hour, two hours,” said the man.
South Africa-based maritime lawyer Alan Goldberg said he is working with local officials to resolve the situation.
“They’ve arrested all seven vessels in order to secure claims for wages owed to the crew. And also to get their repatriation home, back to Indonesia. The ship – the intention is to sell the ships and to go to the Admiralty court for an order sanctioning the sale. It’s a long process, three or four months,” said Goldberg.
The Indonesian fishermen have been sent to a repatriation center in Johannesburg.
Many Indonesians enter the fishing industry due to the promise of high wages, but they often lack the education and training to avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous vessel owners.