Gathering of chaplains to seafarers focuses on plight of fisherman

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Delegates attend the Apostleship of the Sea conference in Bangkok.
Delegates attend the Apostleship of the Sea conference in Bangkok.

The plight of fishermen and their vulnerability to human trafficking was one critical issue considered by the Catholic Church’s main outreach to seafarers at its gathering in Bangkok in late June.

The East and South East Asia Region of the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) met from 20-24 June with representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the US.

With more countries like Australia and New Zealand ratifying the UN Maritime Labor Convention [MLC 2006] the abuses and injustices in the maritime sector have reduced for seafarers but the plight of small time fishermen has not been addressed; under the convention they are not classified as seafarers.

However, efforts are underway to ratify the ILO Fishing Convention 188 which applies to all types of commercial fishing and establishes minimum standards that protect fishermen in all aspects of their work.

It sets international standards for safety on board fishing vessels, food, accommodation and medical care at sea, employment practices, insurance and liability.

Delegates to the conference visited a fishing village where a combined AoS, Caritas, Marist Brothers and Bangkok archdiocese project runs a 1000-student school in Samut Sakron, 50km south of Bangkok on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand.

Most families are economic migrants from Myanmar and project members act as advocates, providing food, clothing, housing and education for the children in Thai, English and Burmese languages, educational curriculum and a variety of skills.

On weekends the same skills are taught to parents who work during the week at the local fish processing factories. AoS workers also help migrants process applications for residency in Thailand.

Following on from a global AoS conference last March in Sydney on the future directions of the apostleship, the conference attempted to develop the apostleship’s strategy by considering what the organisation wants to achieve.

Delegates agreed to:
• call on countries engaged in fishing to admit their fishers are vulnerable and protect them by suitable legislation.
• raise public awareness inside all countries with fishers about their vulnerability and get funding to inform the people of the problem.
• work to eliminate forced labour and trafficking.
• network with agencies [in our case Maritime Australia and Maritime NZ, ITF Maritime Unions, Governments and other NGO’s] to eliminate this injustice.
• lobby local Governments to ratify ILO Fishing C188.