On 28 December 2017, the Court of First Instance ruled that three fishing vessels titled “Yu Long 125”, “Yu Long 6” and “Hung Chi Fu 68” had violated the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2558 on three charges; (1) failing to comply with the Department of Fisheries’ Notification that all vessels without an overseas fishing license must return to port within the set deadline; (2) undertaking fishing in waters of other states and the high seas without permission; and (3) employing crews without seaman books. The fishing vessel company and its executives were ordered to pay a fine in total of 130,463,000 Thai Baht (approximately over 3.5 million Euros) as well as being sentenced to the maximum of 1 year and 15 months. Moreover, an administrative sanction was also applied, including (1) the confiscation of the fishing gear and aquatic animals aboard the vessels, (2) the detention of the vessels until the case completion, (3) the publication of the names of the vessels used in IUU fishing in accordance with Article 116 of the Royal Ordinance, and (4) the revocation of the vessels’ registration. The Department of Fisheries also proceeded to put the aquatic animals seized from the vessels up for auction.
Early in 2016 an inter-agency task force led by the Royal Thai Navy intercepted the above three vessels along with the other three vessels, namely Mook Andaman 018, Mook Andaman 028 and Ceribu and has detained them at the Phuket port. These six vessels are tuna trawlers that engaged in illegal fishing in the Indian Ocean. The remaining three vessels are still waiting for the decision of the trial court.
During the past two years, Thailand has captured and prosecuted 79 cases against overseas vessels, 51 of which have reached the final judgment, accounting for 64 percent of all the cases. Moreover, the Thai authorities have prosecuted another 1,065 cases of Thai and foreign vessels in Thai waters, including 184 foreign vessels illegally fishing in Thai waters. 817 out of the 1,065 cases, or 77 percent, have been concluded.
In addition, Thailand has implemented administrative sanctions alongside criminal proceedings. To date, the Administrative Sanction Committee has prosecuted 239 cases, including 66 cases of overseas fishing vessels, 103 cases of 30 GT-or-above Thai fishing vessels, and 67 cases of less-than-30 GT Thai fishing vessels. The penalties range from seizing the vessel, confiscating its fishing gear and aquatic animals, revoking its fishing license, and imposing fines which, so far, have totaled more than 43 million Baht (approximately over 1.1 million Euros).
Thailand has recently introduced a new measure to speed up the trial process by setting up two new special panels of judges within the Criminal Court to solely handle illegal fishing cases, as announced in the Criminal Court’s order on 29 January 2018. These cases will be deemed extraordinary and the court will aim to conclude all cases within six months after the charge accepted. Regarding the request for temporary release of the accused or defendants, due consideration will also be given to the circumstances relating to the alleged offence; whether it involves criminal networks or organizations or influential figures; and the impact of the alleged offence on the aquatic animal resources and environment. All these efforts reflect the Royal Thai Government’s endeavor to strengthen law enforcement to effectively prevent, deter and eliminate the illegal fishing, as intended in the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries.
On 15 January 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was informed by the Royal Thai Embassy in Colombo, while simultaneously received the alerts from the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) of the European Commission and the INTERPOL, that on 11 to 12 January 2018, the Maldives Coast Guard had detained the Somali-flagged fishing vessel “Chotpattana 55” with 10 Thai crews on board, along with fishing vessel “Chotpattana 51” with 12 Thai crews respectively, on charges of illegal entry into Maldives waters. Each vessel contained 200-ton catch, and there was evidence that both vessels could be stateless.
The two aforementioned fishing vessels had connections with another fishing vessel titled “Chotchainavee 35”. Previously on 2 May 2017, the Thai authorities, namely the Command Center for Combatting Illegal Fishing (CCCIF) and the Royal Thai Police, intercepted the Djibouti-flagged “Chotchainavee 35” while heading into Thai waters. The interception was due to the in-depth information received from a New York Times journalist who has been keeping track of these vessels for quite some time since they have been suspected of conducting illegal fishing in Somali waters. After the inspection, the Thai authorities found 448 tons of catch which was well over of the 270 tons quota granted in the fishing license by the Puntland authority of the Federal Republic of Somalia. Moreover, the vessel operator failed to provide clear evidence that the catch on board was obtained legally within the deadline. Thus, the Department of Fisheries subsequently issued an order to confiscate the vessel, its catch and all assets on board on 27 July 2017.
On 30 July 2017, the Department of Fisheries filed charges against “Chotchainavee 35” with reference to Article 94 of the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2558 (2015) and its revision B.E. 2560 (2017), which states that no person shall bring a non-Thai fishing vessel that has undertaken illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing into the Kingdom, those contravening will be liable to the maximum fine not exceeding 30 million Thai Bahts. At present, the Department of Fisheries is in the process of distributing the seized aquatic animals or the aquatic animals products from “Chotchanavee 35” to impoverished or under privileged members of the public, which is in accordance with Article 96, Paragraph 3 of the Royal Ordinance, and would put the vessel and its properties up for auction. Furthermore, the Thai authorities are in process of prosecuting the owner of “Chotchainavee 35”. It is notable that the vessel is currently stateless since Djibouti has revoked the vessel’s registration since 1 June 2017.
As for the linkage between the three fishing vessels “Chotchainavee 35”, “Chotpattana 51”, and “Chotpattana 55”, they were formerly Thai-flagged, and belonged to the same operator owned by a group of Thai nationals. Later on, these three vessels gave up its Thai registration and obtained Djibouti flags to fish in Puntland which is part of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
The three vessels are part of the fishing fleet that the Thai authorities, in cooperation with the Interpol, has been monitoring their fishing and the use of labour aboard for months. In addition, the Thai authorities has issued a notice seeking cooperation from other countries, in case these vessels are found, in keeping track, running the vessel inspection and documents check, as well as interviewing the crews. “Chotpattana 51” and “Chotpattana 55” were eventually captured by the Maldives authorities.
In addition to the ownership linkage, another connection among these vessels were found when it was discovered that some crews registered with “Chotpattana 55” were found on board “Chotchainavee 35” upon returning to Thailand. According to the interrogation of the Cambodian crews on “Chotchainavee 35”, there were Cambodian and Thai crews on board “Chotpattana 51” and “Chotpattana 55”, which were then in Somali waters, needing assistance to return home due to, according to their information, the poor condition of living on board. The Royal Thai Government then reached out to the Government of Cambodia and the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, as well as the International Organization of Migration (IOM), to provide assistance to the crews. Eventually, all 18 Cambodian crews were rescued and returned to their home country on 11 September 2017, and 35 Thai crews were able to return to Thailand on 13 November 2017. However afterwards, the captains took the vessels with the 22 remaining Thai crews out of Somali waters, and subsequently all were captured in Maldives waters on the initial charge of illegal entry into the Maldives.
The Royal Thai Police has conducted further investigation on the Thai crews upon their arrival in Thailand. The Cambodian Government also kindly cooperated in conducting additional interrogation with the Cambodian crews. Furthermore, on 17 January 2018, Thai police officers and officials from the Department of Fisheries traveled to the Maldives to take part in observing the interrogation of the captured crews with Maldives police’s cooperation, as well as to inspect the vessel and the catch with the Interpol team for any evidence of illegal fishing and the use of forced labour. Officials from the Royal Thai Embassy in Colombo also acted as interpreters during the interrogation.
Since their capture, the Royal Thai Embassy in Colombo has provided consular assistance and procured necessary supplies to the crews of “Chotpattana 51” and “Chotpattana 55”. The Royal Thai Embassy has also coordinated closely with Maldives authorities in an attempt to bring all the crews back to Thailand. As of now, the Maldives police has completed the interrogation of the captains and all crews of both vessels, but still pending the legal order allowing all the crews to return home. In the meantime, the Royal Thai Embassy has already begun the process for the repatriation of the 22 crews which will commence as soon as the legal process is completed. However, the prosecution of the ship captains, and the decision on the vessel and the catch are subject to the Maldives authorities.
The Royal Thai Government wishes to extend its appreciation to all concerned agencies, including the New York Time journalist, DG MARE, Interpol, non-profit organizations such as SkyTruth, Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT), Catapult network, as well as Greenpeace, IOM, the Government of Cambodia, the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, and particularly the Government of the Maldives for their close cooperation that enables the crews wishing to return home to arrive home safely. To date, there are 21 crews remaining in the Maldives (one of the crews was sent home on 27 January 2018 due to sickness and stress), and the Royal Thai Embassy in Colombo is closely following up on their well-being and ready to provide any necessary assistance to them.
The progress made so far clearly demonstrates the determination of the Thai authorities in strengthening law enforcement and closing any existing legal loophole in the past which enabled wrongdoers to benefit from gaps in the law. For instance, at present, Article 8 of the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2558 and its revision B.E. 2560 states the penalties for all Thai, non-Thai, and stateless vessels associated with Thai beneficiaries, thus enabling the Thai law enforcement authorities to pursue the prosecution, in line with the international Agreements and Conventions related to fisheries conservation and management by which Thailand is obliged. As the result, this prevents Thai fishing operators to undertake illegal fishing under foreign flags in order to avoid Thai strict fisheries law and regulations.
In addition, the Marine Department issued the Announcement prohibiting the transfer of ownership and the revocation of Thai-flagged vessel registration while being prosecuted to ensure that the said vessel remains under the authority’s control until the case has come to completion, and to prevent the revocation of vessel registration and reflagging of vessels to other nationalities to continue fishing.
Thailand, as a party to the Port State Measure Agreement, has fully implemented its obligation under Article 95 of the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2558 and its revision B.E. 2560 in designating 22 ports for foreign vessels, and imposing stricter control measures by requesting all foreign vessels, with or without aquatic animals, entering Thai territory to give advance notice to the Thai authorities for an entry into Thai waters in accordance with the timeframe announced by the Department of Fisheries. The Thai authorities will inspect vessels that offload their catch at Thailand-designated ports and coordinate with the relevant countries to verify the authenticity of documents. Moreover, Thailand will cooperate with other countries and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to keep track on vessels suspected of engaging in illegal fishing.
In conclusion, the Royal Thai Government would like to emphasize that, whether the vessel is owned by foreigners, or non-Thai flagged, or owned by Thai nationals but non-Thai flagged, Thailand is implementing much stricter measures on monitoring vessels entering and departing Thai territorial waters than in the past. Thailand will continue to apply the full use of law enforcement in all cases in our unwavering move towards IUU-free and forced labour-free Thailand.
MFA Press Release : Thailand’s Comments on Report on Labour Situation in Fishing Industry of Human Rights Watch
With regard to the Report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 23rd January 2018, entitled “Hidden Chains: Right Abuses and Forced Labour in Thailand’s Fishing Industry”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to state as follows:
1. During the last two years, the Royal Thai Government has determined and put a great effort into solving labour problems in the fishing industry. The Government has implemented various legal reforms, policies, and strengthened law enforcement on labour protection as well as engaged closely with the private sector, non-governmental organizations and neighbouring countries. As a result, there has been significant improvement in the labour situation in the fishing industry in many areas. Disappointedly, the Report of HRW contains many outdated references caused by using information from the situation in 2016 and in some cases, dating back to 2012. This shows that there has been no update of the latest status of this issue, and, therefore, the Report does not take into consideration the current progress and efforts made by Thailand in solving labour problems.
2. One of the positive steps that Thailand has taken that has led to significant change in the labour situation in the fishing industry is the implementation of the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2558 (2015). The Royal Ordinance has imposed severe punishments and higher fines, and together with the execution of the labour laws, have led to the deterrence and elimination of labour trafficking and illegal workers on fishing vessels. During the last two years, there have been more than 4,240 cases of fishery-related crimes and labour law violations brought forward before the criminal court, out of which, 85 cases were prosecuted for human trafficking crimes. Over 50 defendants found guilty were jailed with the maximum sentence of 14 years and fined with the maximum of 2.5 million Thai Bahts (67,500 Euros) as well as got their vessels confiscated.
3. With regards to the prevention of forced labour, numerous new measures have been introduced. For instance, the issuance of special Seabooks for over 70,600 seamen to date; the stipulation that the work contracts must have two copies drawn up – one of which must be given to the worker; the requirement for employers to pay their fishery workers monthly via bank transfer – so far nearly 5,000 workers have been paid through this channel; the stipulation that withholding the identification documents of workers is a punishable offence under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act; the issuance of new legislation governing recruitment agencies to prohibit debt bondages and the licensing of over 100 recruitment agencies; the revision of the existing regulation regarding to the right to change employers especially in the fishing sector – as of 2017, over 100,000 workers had successfully changed their employers; the relaxation of the pink card regulation to delink the legal status of migrant workers from their employers; and the enforcement of the legislation prohibiting the use of labour under the age of 18 in fishing vessels and processing plants. In 2017, 3 plants were shut down after found with the use of child labour, and the owners are being prosecuted.
4. On the issue of awareness raising among workers about their rights, the Royal Thai Government has established three Post-arrival and Reintegration Centres along the border to ensure migrant workers, including those in the fishery sector, receive adequate information about their rights. The Centres also conduct preliminary screening for potential cases of human trafficking and verification of employment contracts. In 2017, 250,000 migrant workers attended the training courses at the Centres and received guidelines on life in Thailand, employment contracts, rights, safety, relevant laws and the complaint mechanisms.
5. On the complaint channels, the Royal Thai Government partners with various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in establishing Migrant Worker Assistance Centers in 10 provinces. In 2017, a total of 57,498 migrant workers were provided with assistance by the Centers, quadruple the number of migrant workers assisted in 2016. Four hotlines available in Thailand’s neighboring countries’ languages have been established to serve as a channel for complaints and consultancy for both employers and employees and have been gaining more attention and usages. In 2017, the hotlines received a total number of more than 130,000 calls, including reports on human trafficking cases that led to over 60 cases of prosecution.
6. Concerning labour inspections, comprehensive inspections have been carried out, covering areas such as ports, seafood processing establishments and onboard fishing vessels. Risk analysis was incorporated to inspection plans in order to help identify inspection targets. The iris and facial scanning technologies are also applied, in addition to the fingerprint scanning, to over 80,000 workers for more effective inspection. The number of labour inspectors and interpreters has increased to over 1,500 officers. Training courses have been regularly provided for labour inspectors, interpreters and law enforcement officers. In 2017, 32 PIPO centers and 19 Forward Inspection Points conducted inspection and one-to-one interview of over 53,000 migrant workers, of which around 3,500 migrant workers were found being violated under the labour protection law. 358 seafood processing establishments were inspected, of which 142 establishments were found to have violated the laws, and the Ministry of Labour has already assisted the workers and prosecuted the owners of the establishments. The current Labour Protection Act has been amended with a view to intensifying law enforcement by instructing all labour inspectors nationwide that any offenses associated with labour abused must be brought forward to the criminal court immediately, instead of giving order to the operators to correct their practices.
7. Several of the HRW’s recommendations are measures that the Thai Government has already undertaking. Thailand is in the process of drafting the “Prevention and Elimination of Forced Labour Act” to be in compliance with the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention (P29), and the work in fishing law in line with the Work in Fishing Convention (C188). It is anticipated that the drafting process will be complete in late March 2018, thus enabling Thailand to be ready for the ratification by June 2018. Regarding the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention 98 (C98), an amendment to the domestic legislation is underway and is expected to be completed in September 2018 before the ratification process.
8. The ongoing effort to combat labour exploitation has brought forward tangible progress that can be witnessed from the abovementioned statistical figures, which proves the effectiveness of law enforcement in Thailand. The Royal Thai Government categorically denies the HRW’s accusation that Thailand has tried to “white-wash” this problem. This cannot be further from the truth. The Royal Thai Government urges the HRW to take a balance view of the current labour situation in Thailand without prejudice. The narrative that repeats outdated information not only contributes to misunderstanding regarding the Government’s effort to address the problem, but also calls into question the validity and trustworthiness of the report itself. In addition, the launch of this report together with the World Report 2018 by HRW that does not reflect the reality in Thailand, thus leading to questions towards the HRW’s real intention.
9. Thailand has always welcomed open discussions and expressed her willingness to work with all the civil society organisations to address the labour issue. However, to solve such a complex problem takes time and cooperation from all neighbouring countries. As a matter of fact, no country can claim to have solved this problem absolutely. The Royal Thai Government would like to thank HRW for following this situation closely and would like to reaffirm our invitation to HRW to work constructively with us. We hope that in the future, HRW will communicate any concern directly to the Royal Thai Government. We are willing to listen to any recommendation that will help us both achieve a common goal of betterment of the migrant workers.
10. The Royal Thai Government reaffirms our commitment to combat the migrant workers exploitation in a holistic manner, not only in the fishing sector, and stands ready to work with all stakeholders in order to enhance our labour practices in alignment with the international labour standard.