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Slave ships being hunted off coast of Papua New Guinea


Migrant fishermen from Myanmar clean Thai fishing boats docked after fishing operations were stopped at a port in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand, 01 July 2015. Photo: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

A fleet of at least 30 fishing trawlers crewed by slaves is being hunted off the coast of Papua New Guinea as the true extent becomes apparent of the trafficking of Myanmar men by a massive Thai-run criminal syndicate operating throughout the East Indies The Guardian reported on 1 August.

Immigration officials have so far intercepted one of the fishing vessels, called the Blissful Reefer, and rescued its trafficked crew. Another 33 Thai trawlers thought to be crewed by slaves are being tracked in fishing grounds off the south coast of Papua New Guinea.

The trawlers are thought to be linked to a huge trafficking operation that was disrupted on the isolated Indonesian island of Benjina in March, liberating hundreds of enslaved fishermen – although a large number of boats loaded with slaves managed to escape.

Analysis of the trafficking operation reveals that the fish, which were originally heading for Thailand’s huge export-oriented seafood trade, are entering global supply chains.

It has also emerged that another, much larger, fleet of fishing boats crewed by slaves has been identified on the Indonesian island of Ambon – 1,200 miles to the west and once an important destination in the region’s spice trade. Officials from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) believe that a further 240 Thai fishing vessels are moored there, along with a total of around 1,000 slaves. 

Accounts from a handful of former Myanmar slaves who have already arrived home say hundreds of men remain unaccounted for.

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