TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - SEOUL-BASED MBC TV on May 6 reported that three Indonesian sailors who died while working on Chinese-flagged fishing vessels were buried at sea. The news instantly went viral on various news and social media outlets in the country.
The scandal sent Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi into overdrive. She assigned teams of diplomats in Jakarta, Beijing and Seoul to look into the matter. “We’ve also asked the Chinese government to help us probe the case as it involves their private sector,” Retno said in a special interview with Tempo last Friday.
Although the government is currently focused on handling the Covid-19 pandemic, Retno assured that it would not sideline the case in which the Indonesian workers had been disadvantaged. At the same time, she highlighted the importance of proper recruitment processes at home to prevent violations of the rights of Indonesian crews working on foreign vessels. "If it is not solid at the upstream without clear recruitment processes, there will be consequences at the downstream," Retno Marsudi, 57, pointed out.
What actually are the circumstances surrounding the sea burials of three Indonesian sailors?
I want to divide the story and first talk about the 46 crew members working on four Chinese-flagged ships, namely Long Xing 629, Long Xing 605, Tian Yu 8 and Long Xing 606. Long Xing 629, for instance, employed 15 Indonesian sailors. One of them, EP, died when the ship docked at Busan, South Korea. After disembarkation, he got sick and was hospitalized, but eventually died of congenital pneumonia. So, the entire crew of 15 including the deceased is now in the process of being repatriated. So, you can say that the crew on this first ship has been taken care of.
(On May 10, Retno met with the 14 crew members – who arrived back in Indonesia two days earlier – at the Bambu Apus quarantine house in East Jakarta. EP’s remains also arrived on the same day as the crew. From the crew, Retno heard their grievances regarding remuneration and working hours which average more than 18 hours a day.)
How about the other crews?
The second ship employs eight Indonesians and the third ship three. Every one of them has returned on April 24. So, we can consider their cases “resolved”. Out of the 20 crew members on the last ship, 18 returned on May 3. Two others are still on the ship and are being processed to be repatriated. So, this is the first part about the 46 Indonesian sailors working on four Chinese-flagged ships. Almost everything is clear.
Now the second part of the story which has been widely circulated on the social media is about the burials of the three deceased Indonesian sailors at sea. In essence, four people in total had died. One in Busan. Two others, SP and AL, of Long Xing 629 died in December 2019. Their ship was sailing in the Pacific Ocean near Samoa. Our ambassador in Wellington, New Zealand, reported the incident and we immediately acted on it.
What actually happened?
From the ship captain's report - and this still needs to be investigated further – the sailor died of an infectious disease. To protect the rest of the crew, and with the crew’s consent, the body was buried at sea. There is indeed a term “burial at sea” in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) stipulations. This is not the first time such a burial has occurred. However, ILO also stipulates terms for such burial.
What are the terms?
There are several provisions, among others, if the deceased’s illness is infectious, if the ship does not have refrigerated system on board or if the ship is far from ports. These are longline fishing vessels which catch fishes in open seas. So, they are far away from everywhere. Therefore, the statement we want from the company in our investigation later is whether they had met all the ILO criteria (for the sea burial).
How about one other deceased sailor?
The remaining sailor, AR, from the same ship (Long Xing 629), fell sick on March 26. He was about to be transferred to Tian Yu 8 for treatment as they looked for the nearest port. But he passed away on March 30 before he could receive treatment. He was then buried at sea the next morning. According to the company, the family had given their consent. Again, this is the information from the company which will be verified by the government.
What about the Chinese government’s support in handling this case?
We established communication with the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta. In essence, we asked the Chinese government to help us probe the case as it involves their private sector. But it will be easier for us if the two governments investigate together. We asked Dalian Ocean Fishing Co. Ltd to fulfill their responsibilities towards the crew. The Chinese ambassador conveyed that the Chinese government would ensure that Dalian complies with the applicable laws and agreed contracts.
Are all crew members from Indonesia including the deceased suspected to be human trafficking victims?
That’s what we are trying to find out. In principle, human trafficking involves an element of fraud where they were lured with false promises. For example, they were promised 1,000 (dollars) in wage but were paid only a few hundred (dollars). Or they were promised eight hours of work for each shift but it turned out they had to work for 20 hours, or they were signed up to work on one ship but later were transferred to another. Or some were promised they could return home every few months but in reality, they could not. That’s what we are checking.
Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine