New legislation helps prevent forced labour in New Zealand’s fishing industry


Since 2011, stories of abuse on board foreign-chartered fishing vessels (FCVs) in New Zealand have come to light in both the local and international press.

But these stories represent merely the tip of the iceberg though, as the problems relating to FCVs go back as far as the 1980s.

The following stories highlight some of the recent abuses suffered by fishermen.

• In September 2005, ten fishermen working on the Korean fishing vessel Sky 75 jumped ship at the Port of Nelson, climbing over the security fence and going to the police. Their complaint alleged serious abuse while working in New Zealand waters. The fishermen alleged that they had been fed rotten meat and vegetables; made to shower by standing on deck while waves came on board; constantly abused both physically and emotionally, and forced to continue working long hours while sick or injured for a wage of only US$200 a month – which they were never even paid.

• In July 2011, 32 Indonesian fishermen left their fishing vessel – the Oyang 75 – in the port of Lyttelton claiming physical and verbal abuse, and the under payment of five months of wages. This walk off came only two months after a media event where journalists from the major New Zealand broadcasting networks were invited to what was held out to be the flagship of the Oyang fleet.

• On board the “cockroach infested and leaky” Shin Ji, fishermen had no bed linen, no hot water and the life rafts were inaccessible due to mis-stowed fishing gear. Fishermen working aboard the Shin Ji went on strike for non-payment of wages dating back two years – the wages only amounted to about US$220 a month. Crew members were forced to “massage” the captain nightly, and crew consistently worked shifts between 16 and 30 hours without breaks. No time off was given for sickness or injury, and after the death of a crew member, no action was taken by the New Zealand police, or the boat owners.

In a series of interviews conducted by the journalist Ben Skinner, and in research conducted by Christina Stringer, Glenn Simmons and Daren Coulston with fishermen who had worked on FCVs in New Zealand waters, stories emerged of systematic abuse of all kinds – sexual, physical and emotional.

But as a result of increased awareness of these issues, brought about in part by the work of the advocacy group Slave Free Seas, a Ministerial Inquiry was conducted in 2012.

This has resulted in new legislation being drafted which will require all fishing vessels operating in New Zealand’s waters to be flagged as New Zealand vessels.

This will shut down the methods of operation that have been used by companies until now.


Now what?

Since 2011, Slave Free Seas has been involved in litigation surrounding these events, however it has stepped back from this in order to take a more proactive stance in ending this form of exploitation in fishing industries around the world.

This is being done by developing innovative strategies that can be used against the perpetrators of this kind of abuse by those groups and individuals who are advocating for the rights of fishers.

To do this, Slave Free Seas is developing a toolkit of these strategies, in partnership with a number of international organisations. This is a platform that allows Slave Free Seas to present its research into the numerous questions of law that surround this issue.

We strongly believe that sharing of knowledge is an essential requirement in preventing this form of trafficking. Slave Free Seas is able to provide consultation on all aspects of the trafficking of fishermen.


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