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THE Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) endorsed an alleged forced labor trafficking case involving 26 Filipino fishermen deployed by two Philippine manning agencies to Namibia to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) for investigation and appropriate action.
In a letter signed by Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople, the department noted that based on the affidavits of 26 repatriated fishermen, the workers initially were made to believe that their jobsite would be in Taiwan, but they all eventually ended up fishing in the waters of Namibia, a country in the African region.
“Based on the testimonies that we gathered, the fishermen were sometimes made to work for 36 hours straight with only two meals a day, and an average of 4 hours of sleep. Their identity papers including passports and seamen’s books were kept away from the workers which is a blatant violation of the rights of these seafarers,” Ople said.
The two manning agencies identified as Trioceanic Manning & Shipping, Inc. and Diamond H Marine Services & Shipping Agency have already appeared before the DMW, and were able to pay the back wages due to the aggrieved fishermen.
“Any financial settlement between the manning agencies and the fishermen does not prevent the State from looking into the criminal aspects of cases involving the exploitation of migrant workers. In the cases of Filipino fishermen deployed to Namibia, we believe there are enough grounds to investigate the manning agencies for forced labor trafficking,” Ople said.
The DMW is also investigating the principals involved in the Namibian case, namely: Shang Chi Enterprise Ltd, One Marine Services, Inc. and Arrow Marine PTE, Ltd.
“They are facing permanent disqualification from the hiring of Filipino fishermen,” Ople said.
Namibia is a country in southern Africa with the Atlantic Ocean on its western border. Based on an article published by the Africa Defense forum on October 11, 2022, the fishermen were rescued from two industrial fishing vessels in Namibia in early September.
Of the 60 people rescued from MV Shang Fu and the Nata 2 in Waivis Bay, most are from the Philippines although several were from Angola, Indonesia, Namibia, Mozambique and Vietnam, according to The Namibian newspaper.
Namibian authorities brought the Filipino fishermen aboard the two fishing vessels to a shelter while the companies they worked for were being investigated for human trafficking, violations of Namibia’s Labor Act, Immigration Control Act and the Marine Resources Act.
Ople said the department has sought the help of the Department of Justice and the IACAT given the international dimension of the case and the gravity of contractual and labor violations committed against the fishermen.
“We cannot turn a blind eye on another country’s quest for justice and our own laws against human trafficking because to do so may encourage similar abuses in the future,” she said.