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Story highlights

New report claims that abuses still persist on Thai fishing vessels despite reforms

Ban on transshipment vessels is needed to help trafficked workers aboard these ships

(CNN) —  

Despite international pressure, human rights abuses in Thailand’s fishing industry persist on ships active in remote, unpoliced waters, a new Greenpeace report claims.

In a year-long investigation published Thursday, Greenpeace explores how the Thai seafood industry still falls desperately short of international labor and fishing regulations, resulting in the exploitation of trafficked laborers.

The implementation of a series of reforms to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in November 2015 simply saw many Thai fishing vessels travel thousands of miles to the Saya de Malha Bank area off the coast of east Africa to avoid policing, Mark Dia, regional oceans coordinator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told CNN.

Between 2014 and 2016, Greenpeace tracked Thailand’s rogue fishing vessels, finding that as many as 76 vessels with Thai flags had shifted their operations to the Saya de Malha Bank area.

CNN has reached out to the Thai government and is waiting for a response.

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Thailand earns annual revenue of more than $6.5 billion from its fishing industry and is the world’s fourth largest seafood exporter.

’A permanent ban on transshipments at sea’

Yet in recent years, the country has come under fire due to the plight of trafficked laborers aboard Thai vessels and unsustainable fishing practices.

Report on Thai fishing finds ‘slaves at sea’

Thai purse seiner is docked at the maintenance area to go under repair in Ranong, southern Thailand.
PHOTO: Biel Calderon/Greenpeace
Thai purse seiner is docked at the maintenance area to go under repair in Ranong, southern Thailand.

In 2014, the US State Department bumped Thailand down to the lowest tier on its Trafficking in Persons Report, which can result in the withdrawal of international aid.

And in May 2015, the European Union called Thailand a “non-cooperating” country because of poor monitoring of its fishing vessels and trade of seafood from other countries into Thailand.

The Thai government has responded to international criticism.

Aside from its fisheries reforms in November 2015, the Thai government recalled all Thai transshipment vessels, which rarely dock, to port between January to June 2016, so that conditions aboard could be checked and vessel monitoring systems (VMS) installed.

Jason Kwok/CNN

According to Dia, laborers trafficked onto transshipment vessels – where crews are at sea for sometimes months and years – are most at risk of abuse.

The ships receive food supplies every few months, which means that fishermen aboard often suffer from beriberi – a vitamin B1 deficiency that can result in swollen limbs, paralysis, and cardiovascular failure.

According to Greenpeace, these fishermen often have their identification papers confiscated and are not permitted to leave the ships.

Dia said, however, that the six-month transshipment ban hadn’t given the Thai government enough time to institute their reforms.

“One of the things we’re asking for is a permanent ban on transshipments at sea,” said Dia.

Thai PM vows to clamp down on slavery in fishing

A flawed observer program?

Burmese workers sort freshly-landed fish at the public fishing port in Ranong, southern Thailand.
PHOTO: Chanklang Kanthong/Greenpeace
Burmese workers sort freshly-landed fish at the public fishing port in Ranong, southern Thailand.

The Thai government’s fishing reforms have also seen “observer programs” placed on transshipments vessels so government representatives can document the condition of workers and the catches aboard these ships.

According to Dia, there are simply too many vessels for the government to cope with.

“There are thousands of (transshipment) vessels on the Western and Central Pacific and Indian Ocean, the observer program can only cover around five percent of these vessels,” said Dia.

“There are also cases of observers being threatened by crew members or incidences of them disappearing,” added Dia.