Ukrainian seafarers, fishermen risk exploitation by human traffickers

Posted on Tue, May-07-2013

Ukraine - Seafarers and fishermen in Ukraine, seeking employment through legitimate recruitment organizations, risk ending up trafficked at sea, according to a new report by the NEXUS Institute, an international human rights research and policy centre based in Washington D.C. and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva.

The report is based on a study of 46 men trafficked to Russia, Turkey and South Korea on vessels under Panamanian and Russian flags engaged in illegal crab fishing or cargo transportation. It is the first of its kind to carry out a comprehensive examination of trafficking of seafarers from Ukraine.

It details extremely harsh living conditions on board the vessels, regularly leading to serious injury, illness and even death. Crews were routinely denied medical care and traffickers often used violence to control the men and prevent rebellion over working conditions and non-payment.

With little or no chance to escape, seafarers and fishermen interviewed for the study reported being forced to work up to 22 hours a day, seven days a week, without pay and with little access to food and water.

"These men do not fit the stereotype of trafficked victims," said Rebecca Surtees, Senior Researcher at NEXUS Institute, and author of the report. "A common assumption is that poverty and lack of education are predominant risk factors for being trafficked. However, these men have received education and worked in different posts, including as captain and navigator."

Trafficking at sea has been reported in different regions and is increasingly recognized as a serious issue. However, some aspects of the Ukrainian experiences are unique. According to Ms. Surtees, most men thought they were signing legally binding agreements with reliable crewing companies and employers. They all travelled with legal documents and crossed formal borders.

"The seeming legitimacy of the recruitment process made it difficult for the victims to protect themselves from exploitation," she says.

Identifying and assisting trafficked seafarers and fishermen is extremely difficult, as this type of trafficking takes place out of sight, on the high seas. The report calls for increased scrutiny of this form of labour trafficking, which, it says, is currently inadequately addressed.

Among key recommendations are improved regulations and legal accountability of crewing agencies, better labour regulation of the seafaring and fishing sectors; and improved interaction with seafarers and fishermen by port and law enforcement authorities to identify trafficking cases.

The report also calls for improved services tailored to meet the specific needs of trafficked seafarers and fishermen; enforced legal responsibilities of flag states; and prosecution of traffickers.

The research report was published as part of the IOM and NEXUS Institute Human Trafficking Research Series, which aims to improve the current knowledge base on human trafficking.

It was made possible through support provided by the United States Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP).

For more information, please contact:

Rebecca Surtees
NEXUS Institute
Tel: +66 82 798 9210

Amanda Gould
Tel. +41 22 717 91 70