'Modern-day slaves' were rescued by a fisheries patrol vessel which stopped 3 foreign vessels fishing without permission off the Cape coast. People on board the tuna fishing vessels were working without being paid for years and forced to live in terrible conditions. Some of the workers were working from 3 to 5 years without a salary. Most of the crew are from Indonesia and Taiwan. Ceba Mtoba, chief director of control and surveillance at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that the illegally fishing vessels were not fit to sail according to SA Maritime Safety Authorities regulations.
Mr Mtoba said:
"(The crew) were living in pathetic conditions. It was absolutely terrible, completely inhumane to treat people like that,"
If the fisheries patrol vessel had not seized the 'slave ships', the slavery would have continued. The tuna fishing vessels were escorted to Cape Town harbour. Investigation of the 'slavery' lead to the owner and the other 7 vessels which were found docked in the Cape Town harbour. It was discovered that the vessels had supposititious documents. The number of crew members on the ten vessels was 70. Crew members will be sent back home.
The fisheries department informed:
- Illegally fishing without proper documentation.
- The workers were living in miserable conditions, sleeping on the floor or on old blankets.
- Broken and filthy toilets.
- Part of the 'slaves' were not paid for up to 5 years.
- Crew said that 2 of the vessels of the same owner had sunk at open sea.
- 2 workers died in unknown circumstances.
The estimated amount of tuna on board the vessels is 160 tons. Part of the catch is probably from South African waters. Authorities detained all of the vessels and the catch (reported being kept in cold storage).
In the end of the last year 2 of the seized tuna fishing vessels escaped of Cape Town harbour.
According to the fisheries authorities it was a well-planned escape. Everyone is trying to find the escaped vessel, but without success so far. There is an interesting version: Another vessel was waiting to transfer crew members and after that operation, the tuna fishing vessels were sunk in order to escape the law. There are 8 vessels in the harbour: Bahari Nusantara, the Bahari Nusantara No 83, No 19, No 5 and No 26; the Bintang Sumudra No 11, the Sumudra Gilontas No 231 and the Mahklta Abadi.
The fisheries department is searching for the owners, but if they are not found the tuna fishing vessels will be owned by the department. There is a problem, 160 tons of frozen tuna, law does not allow (international agreements) illegally fished tuna to be traded. The fisheries department is considering a donation.