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World

SeaSlaves:TheHumanMiseryThatFeeds
PetsandLivestock
Menwhohavefledservitudeonfishingboatsrecountbeatingsandworseasnets
arecastforthecatchthatwillbecomepetfoodandlivestockfeed.
ByIANURBINA

JULY27,2015|

SONGKHLA,ThailandLangLongsordealbeganinthebackofatruck.Afterwatching
hisyoungersiblingsgohungrybecausetheirfamilysricepatchinCambodiacouldnot
provideforeveryone,heacceptedatraffickersoffertotravelacrosstheThaiborderfora
constructionjob.
Itwashischancetostartover.Butwhenhearrived,Mr.Longwaskeptfordaysby
armedmeninaroomneartheportatSamutPrakan,morethanadozenmilessoutheastof
Bangkok.Hewasthenherdedwithsixothermigrantsupagangwayontoashoddywooden
ship.Itwasthestartofthreebrutalyearsincaptivityatsea.
Icried,saidMr.Long,30,recountinghowhewasresoldtwicebetweenfishing
boats.Afterrepeatedescapeattempts,onecaptainshackledhimbytheneckwhenever
otherboatsneared.
Mr.Longscrewstrawledprimarilyforforagefish,whicharesmallandcheaplypriced.
MuchofthiscatchcomesfromthewatersoffThailand,whereMr.Longwasheld,andis
soldtotheUnitedStates,typicallyforcannedcatanddogfoodorfeedforpoultry,pigsand
farmraisedfishthatAmericansconsume.
ThemiseryenduredbyMr.Long,whowaseventuallyrescuedbyanaidgroup,isnot
uncommoninthemaritimeworld.Laborabuseatseacanbesoseverethattheboysand
menwhoareitsvictimsmightaswellbecaptivesfromabygoneera.Ininterviews,those
whofledrecountedhorrificviolence:thesickcastoverboard,thedefiantbeheaded,the
insubordinatesealedfordaysbelowdeckinadark,fetidfishinghold.
Theharshpracticeshaveintensifiedinrecentyears,areviewofhundredsofaccounts

fromescapeddeckhandsprovidedtopolice,immigrationandhumanrightsworkers
shows.Thatisbecauseoflaxmaritimelaborlawsandaninsatiableglobaldemandfor
seafoodevenasfishingstocksaredepleted.
Shippingrecords,customsdataanddozensofinterviewswithgovernmentand
maritimeofficialspointtoagreaterrelianceonlonghaulfishing,inwhichvesselsstayat
sea,sometimesforyears,farfromthereachofauthorities.Withrisingfuelpricesand
fewerfishclosetoshore,fisheriesexpertspredictthatmoreboatswillresorttoventuring
outfarther,exacerbatingthepotentialformistreatment.
Lifeatseaischeap,saidPhilRobertson,deputydirectorofHumanRightsWatchs
Asiadivision.Andconditionsouttherekeepgettingworse.
Whileforcedlaborexiststhroughouttheworld,nowhereistheproblemmore
pronouncedthanhereintheSouthChinaSea,especiallyintheThaifishingfleet,which
facesanannualshortageofabout50,000mariners,basedonUnitedNationsestimates.
Theshortfallisprimarilyfilledbyusingmigrants,mostlyfromCambodiaandMyanmar.
Manyofthem,likeMr.Long,areluredacrosstheborderbytraffickersonlytobecome
socalledseaslavesinfloatinglaborcamps.Oftentheyarebeatenforthesmallest
transgressions,likestitchingatornnettooslowlyormistakenlyplacingamackerelintoa
bucketforherring,accordingtoaUnitedNationssurveyofabout50Cambodianmenand
boyssoldtoThaifishingboats.Ofthoseinterviewedinthe2009survey,29saidtheyhad
witnessedtheircaptainorotherofficerskillaworker.
Themigrants,whoarerelativelyinvisiblebecausemostareundocumented,disappear
beyondthehorizononghostshipsunregisteredvesselsthattheThaigovernmentdoes
notknowexist.
TheyusuallydonotspeakthelanguageoftheirThaicaptains,donotknowhowto
swim,andhaveneverseentheseabeforebeingwhiskedfromshore,accordingto
interviewsinMalaysia,ThailandandIndonesia.Theseinterviews,inportoronfishing
boatsatsea,wereconductedwithmorethanthreedozencurrentdeckhandsorformer
crewmembers.
Governmentinterventionisrare.WhileUnitedNationspactsandvarioushuman
rightsprotectionsprohibitforcedlabor,theThaimilitaryandlawenforcementauthorities
dolittletocountermisconductonthehighseas.UnitedNationsofficialsandrights
organizationsaccusesomeofthemoftakingbribesfromtraffickerstoallowsafepassage
acrosstheborder.Migrantsoftenreportbeingrescuedbypoliceofficersfromone

smuggleronlytoberesoldtoanother.
Mr.Longdidnotknowwherethefishhecaughtendedup.Hedidlearn,however,that
mostoftheforagefishonthefinalboatwherehewasheldinbondagewasdestinedfora
cannerycalledtheSongklaCanningPublicCompany,whichisasubsidiaryofThaiUnion
FrozenProducts,thecountryslargestseafoodcompany.Inthepastyear,ThaiUnionhas
shippedmorethan28millionpoundsofseafoodbasedcatanddogfoodforsomeofthe
topbrandssoldinAmericaincludingIams,MeowMixandFancyFeast,accordingto
UnitedStatesCustomsdocuments.
TheUnitedStatesisthebiggestcustomerofThaifish,andpetfoodisamongthe
fastestgrowingexportsfromThailand,morethandoublingsince2009andlastyear
totalingmorethan$190million.TheaveragepetcatintheUnitedStateseats30poundsof
fishperyear,aboutdoublethatofatypicalAmerican.
ThoughthereisgrowingpressurefromAmericansandotherWesternconsumersfor
moreaccountabilityinseafoodcompaniessupplychainstoensureagainstillegalfishing
andcontaminatedorcounterfeitfish,virtuallynoattentionhasfocusedonthelaborthat
suppliestheseafoodthatpeopleeat,muchlessthefishthatisfedtoanimals.
Howfastdotheirpetseatwhatsputinfrontofthem,andaretherewholemeat
chunksinthatmeal?askedGiovanniM.Turchini,anenvironmentalprofessoratDeakin
UniversityinAustraliawhostudiestheglobalfishmarkets.Thesearethefactorsthatpet
ownersmostfocuson.

LittleRespiteFromDanger
Itisdifficulttooverstatethedangersofcommercialfishing.Twodaysspentmorethan
100milesfromshoreonaThaifishingshipwithtwodozenCambodianboys,someas
youngas15,showedthebrutalrhythmofthiswork.
Rainorshine,shiftsrun18to20hours.Summertemperaturestop100degrees.The
deckisanobstaclecourseofjaggedtackle,whirringwinchesandtallstacksof500pound
nets.Oceansprayandfishinnardsmakethefloorskatingrinkslippery.Theshipseesaws,
particularlyinroughseasandgalewinds.Mostboysworkbarefoot15footswellsclimb
thesides,clippingthembelowtheknees.Muchofthisoccursinpitchblackness.Purse
seiners,likethisship,usuallycasttheirnetsatnightwhenthesmallsilverforagefishthat
theytargetmostlyjackmackerelandherringareeasiertospot.
Whentheyarenotfishing,theCambodians,mostofwhomwererecruitedby

traffickers,sorttheircatchandfixthenets,whicharepronetoripping.One17yearold
boyproudlyshowedahandmissingtwofingersseveredbyanylonlinethathadcoiled
aroundaspinningcrank.Themigrantshands,whicharevirtuallyneverfullydry,have
openwounds,slitfromfishscalesandtornfromthenetsfriction.Fishisinsideus,one
oftheboyssaid.Theystitchclosedthedeepercutsthemselves.Infectionsareconstant.
Thailandscommercialfishingfleetconsistspredominantlyofbottomtrawlers,called
thestripminersoftheseabecausetheyusenetsweightedtosinktotheoceanfloorand
ensnarealmosteverythingintheirpath.Butpurseseineboats,liketheonewherethese
Cambodianswork,arecommontoo.Theyusecircularnetstotargetfishclosertothe
waterssurface.Afterthenetsarehauledupward,theyarepinchedatthetop,likeoldstyle
coinpurses.
Beforearrivingontheship,mostoftheCambodianshadneverseenabodyofwater
largerthanalake.Thefewwhocouldswimwereresponsiblefordivingintotheinkyseato
ensurethatthe50footmouthofthenetsclosedproperly.Ifoneofthemweretoget
tangledinthemeshandyankedunderwater,itislikelythatnoonewouldnoticeright
away.Theworkisfrenziedandloud,astheboyschantinunisonwhilepullingthenets.
Mealsonboardconsistofaoncedailybowlofrice,fleckedwithboiledsquidorother
throwawayfish.Inthegalley,thewheelroomandelsewhere,countertopscrawlwith
roaches.Thetoiletisaremovablewoodenfloorboardondeck.Atnight,vermincleanthe
boysunwashedplates.Theshipsmangydogbarelyliftsherheadwhenrats,whichroam
allovertheship,eatfromherbowl.
Crewmemberstendtosleepintwohoursnatches,packedintoanintenselyhotcrawl
space.Toomanybodiessharethesameair,withfishingnethammockshangingfroma
ceilingthatislessthanfivefeetabovethefloor.Deafening,theengineturbinesthrob
incessantly,shakingtheshipswoodendeck.Everysooften,theenginecoughsablack
cloudofacridfumesintothesleepingquarters.
Theseconditions,whicharetypicalonlonghaulfishingvessels,arepartofthereason
thattheThaifishingfleetischronicallyshortofmen.Thailandhasoneofthelowest
unemploymentratesintheworldgenerallylessthan1percentwhichmeansnative
workershavenotroublefindingeasier,betterpayingjobsonland.
Youjusthavetoworkhard,saidPier,17,oneofthemigrantsonthepurseseiner.
Pier,whogoesbyonlyonename,saidhelikedlifeontheship.Betterthanhome,hesaid,
Nothingtodothere.Heflexedhissinewybiceps,showingtheresultsofhislabor.

Inthedeadofnight,thecaptainspottedaschooloffishonradar.Herousedthecrew
withanairhorn.Pier,inhissecondyearofworkingontheship,explainedthathestill
owedthecaptainsomeofthe$300hepaidasmugglertogethimfromthebordertoport.
Therestofhisdebt,$90,wasfromacashadvancehesentbacktohisfamily,hesaid.
Willingtoanswerotherquestions,Piersilentlylookeddownwhenaskedwhetherhehad
everbeenbeaten.Severalotherboys,questionedaboutthesame,furtivelylookedtothe
captainandshooktheirheadstoindicatethattheydidnotwanttobeinterviewed.
Indenturedservitudeatravelnow,paylaterlaborsystemwherepeopleworkto
clearadebttypicallyaccruedforgettingfreepassagetoanothercountryiscommonin
thedevelopingworld,especiallyinconstruction,agriculture,manufacturingandthesex
industry.Itismorepervasiveandabusiveatsea,humanrightsexpertssay,becausethose
workersaresoisolated.
Historically,Thaiboatcaptainspaidlargeadvancestodeckhandssotheycould
sustaintheirfamiliesduringtheirlongabsences.Butthecountryslaborcrisishas
convertedthisupfrontcashintoapriceperhead(orkhahuafee)giventosmugglerswho
ferryworkersacrosstheborder.
StandingontheboatnexttoPier,anotherCambodianboytriedtoexplainhowelusive
thekhahuadebtbecomesoncetheyleaveland.Pointingtohisownshadowandmoving
aroundasifheweretryingtograbit,hesaid:Cantcatch.
TheboatsThaicrewmaster,Tang,amanwithpockmarkedskinandmissingfront
teeth,orderedtheboysbacktowork.Hethentickedoffalistofthepressuresondeepsea
captains.Fuelcostseatupabout60percentofavesselsearnings,doublewhattheydid
twodecadesago.Oncefisharecaught,storingtheminmeltingiceisaraceagainstthe
clock.Asfishthaw,theirproteincontentfalls,droppingtheirsaleprice.And,Tangadded,
becausedeepseafishingboatsworkoncommission,Crewsonlygetpaidifwecatch
enough.
Captainsfeartheircrewsasintenselyastheydrivethem.Languageandcultural
barrierscreatedivisionsmostboatsherehavethreeThaiofficersandforeigndeckhands.
Thecaptainisarmed,inpartbecauseofthethreatofpirates,butTangalsotalkedofa
gruesomemutinyonanothershipthatleftalltheofficersdead.
Talesofforcedlaborarenotalwayswhattheyseem,accordingtotheboatscaptain,
whoinsistedonanonymityasaconditionofallowingareporteronboard.Someworkers
signupwillingly,onlytochangetheirmindsonceatsea,whileothersmakeupstoriesof
mistreatmentinhopesofgettingbacktotheirfamilies,hesaid.

Still,ahalfdozenothercaptainsacknowledgedthatforcedlaboriscommon.Itis
unavoidable,theyargue,giventhecountrysdemandforlaborers.Everytimeaboatdocks,
theysaid,theyfretthattheirwillingworkerswillbolttobetterpayingships.Thatisalso
themomentwhencaptivemigrantsmakearunforit.
Shorthandedatthe11thhour,captainssometimestakedesperatemeasures.They
justsnatchpeople,onecaptainexplained,notingthatsomemigrantsaredruggedor
kidnappedandforcedontoboats.Brokerschargedouble.

LitanyofAbuses
TravelingthecoastoftheSouthChinaSea,itcanseemthateverymigranthashisown
storyofabuse.
Skippersneverlackedforamphetaminessolaborerscouldworklonger,butrarely
stockedantibioticsforinfectedwounds.Formerdeckhandsdescribedprisonislands
mostoftenuninhabitedatolls,ofwhichtherearehundredsintheSouthChinaSea.Fishing
captainssometimesmaroontheircaptivecrewsonthoseislands,sometimesforweeks,
whiletheirvesselsaretakentoportfordrydockingandrepair.
Otherislands,inhabitedbutdesolate,arealsousedtoholdcrewmembers.Fishing
boatworkersonanIndonesianislandcalledBenjinawerekeptincagestopreventthem
fromfleeing,TheAssociatedPressreportedearlierthisyear.Inaccessiblebyboatseveral
monthsayearbecauseofmonsoons,Benjinahadanairstripthatwasrarelyusedandno
phoneorInternetservice.
Thaigovernmentofficialssaidtheyhavesteppedupthenumberofinvestigationsand
prosecutionsandplantocontinuedoingso.Aregistrationdriveisunderwaytocount
undocumentedworkersandprovidethemwithidentitycards,addedVijavatIsarabhakdi,
ThailandsambassadortotheUnitedStatesuntilthisyear.Thegovernmenthasalso
establishedseveralcentersaroundthecountryfortraffickingvictims.
SanOo,35,asoftspokenBurmesemanwithweatherbeatenskin,predictedthatuntil
shipcaptainsareprosecuted,littlewillimprove.Hedescribedhowonhisfirstdayoftwo
andahalfyearsincaptivity,hiscaptainwarnedthathehadkilledtheseamanMr.Oowas
replacing.IfyoudisobeyorrunorgetsickIwilldoitagain,herecalledhiscaptain
saying.
Pak,a38yearoldCambodianwhofledaThaitrawlerlastyear,endedupontheKei
Islands,inIndonesiaseasternBandaSea.TheUnitedNationsestimatedthathundredsof

migrantsthereescapedfishingboatsoverthelastdecade.Youbelongtothecaptain,Pak
said,recountingwatchingamansodesperatethathejumpedoverboardanddrowned.So
hecansellyouifhewants.
CriticshavefaultedThailandforwhattheysayisadeliberatefailuretoconfrontthe
largercausesofabuseinfishing.Comparedtoitsneighbors,Thailandhaslessstringent
rulesonhowlongboatscanremainatsea.Lastyear,itwastheonlycountrytovoteagainst
aUnitedNationstreatyonforcedlaborrequiringgovernmentstopunishtraffickers,before
reversingitsstanceinthefaceofinternationalpressure.
Thaiofficialsalsoproposedusingprisonlaboronfishingboatsasawaytoshiftaway
frommigrantworkers,aplandroppedafteranoutcryfromhumanrightsgroups.On
Monday,theStateDepartmentrenewedThailandsrankingonthelowestrungof
governmentsthatdonotmeetminimumstandardsincounteringhumantrafficking.
TheotherThaiindustrywhereforcedlaboriscommonissexwork,saidMr.
Robertson,fromHumanRightsWatch.Thetwoindustriesintersectinrundowntowns
likeRanong,alongtheThailandMyanmarborder.Laborbrokersoperatewithimpunityin
thesetowns.Karaokebarsdoubleasbrothelsanddebttraps.
AtavernownernamedRuisatdowntomakehispitchlateonenightinNovember,
pointingtotwoprepubescentgirlswhosatinacorner,wearingcakedonmakeupand
tight,glitteryskirts.HespreadastackofPolaroidpicturesofthemfromayearbefore.
Eachclutchedastuffedanimalinthephotosandlookedscared.Popular,Ruisaidofthe
girlsnow.Verypopularnow.
AbeeratRuistaverncostabout$1.Sexwithapopulargirl:$12.Forthetattered
men,mostlyBurmese,whoenduphere,acoupleofeveningsatthetaverncanaddupto
kinglysum.Manyofthemhavetrekkedhundredsofmilesbyfoot,notacentonthem,
hopingforwork.Meals,drugsandlodging,offeredasfavors,showuplaterasfees.Toclear
thesebills,migrantsaresometimessoldtothesea.
Checkingboatsforhumanrightsabusesisdifficult.Mostfishingvesselsareexempt
frominternationalrulesrequiringtheonboardtrackingsystemsusedbylawenforcement.
MarineofficialsinThailand,MalaysiaandIndonesiasaidthattheirnaviesrarelyinspect
forlaborandimmigrationviolations.Authoritiesinthosecountriesaddedthattheylack
boatsandfuelneededtoreachtheshipsfarthestfromshorethataremostpronetousing
captivelabor.
Deepseafishinggenerallydoesnotlenditselftotimecardsorpaystubs.Labor

contractscommonintheregionoftenincludetermsthatwouldseemunthinkableinjobs
onland.
Forinstance,acontractfromamanpoweragencyinSingapore,providedtoTheNew
YorkTimes,committeddeckhandstoathreeyeartourduringwhichtheagencyretained
thefull$200permonthforthefirstsixmonthsand$150permonththereafter.Daily
workinghourswillbearound18hours,thecontractstipulates,addingthatthereisno
overtimepay.Boatsmayremainatseaforlongerthanayearpertrip.Onlyseawatermay
beusedforbathingandlaundry.Marinerscanbetradedfromboattoboatatthecaptains
discretion.
Allbiscuits,noodles,softdrinksandcigarettesaretobepurchasedbythesailor,the
contractsays.Anycrewwhobreachesthecontract(ownsickness,lazyorrejectedbythe
Captain,etc.)mustbearalltheexpensesincurredingoingbackhome.

SupplyandDemand
TheboatthatdeliveredMr.Longtocaptivityandsubsequentlyrescuedhimwas
knownasamothership.Carryingeverythingfromfuelandextrafoodtosparenetsand
replacementlabor,theselumberingvessels,oftenoverahundredfeetlong,functionasthe
rovingresupplystoresofthemarineworld.Mothershipsarethereasonthatslowmoving
trawlerscanfishmorethan1,500milesfromland.Theyallowfishermentostayoutatsea
formonthsoryearsandstillgettheircatchcleaned,cannedandshippedtoAmerican
shelveslessthanaweekafternetting.
Butoncealoadoffishistransferredtoamothership,whichkeepsthecargobelow
deckincavernousrefrigerators,thereisalmostnowayforportsideauthoritiesto
determineitsprovenance.Itbecomesvirtuallyimpossibletoknowwhetheritwascaught
legallybypaidfishermenorpoachedillegallybyshackledmigrants.
BarcodesonpetfoodinsomeEuropeancountriesenablefarflungconsumerstotrack
Thaiexportedseafoodtoitsonshoreprocessingfacilities,whereitwascannedor
otherwisepackaged.Butthesupplychainforthe28milliontonsofforagefishcaught
annuallyaroundtheglobe,aboutathirdofallfishcaughtatseaandmuchofitusedforpet
andanimalfeed,isinvisiblebeforethat.
SasinanAllmand,theheadofcorporatecommunicationsforThaiUnionFrozen
Products,saidthathercompanydoesroutineauditsofitscanneriesandboatsinportto
ensureagainstforcedandchildlabor.Theauditsinvolvecheckingcrewmembers
contracts,passports,proofofpaymentandworkingconditions.Wewillnottolerateany

humantraffickingoranyhumanrightsviolationofanykind,shesaid.Askedwhether
auditsareconductedonthefishingboatsthatstayatsea,liketheonewhereMr.Longwas
captive,shedeclinedtorespond.
Humanrightsadvocateshavecalledforavarietyofmeasurestoprovidegreater
oversight,includingrequiringallcommercialfishingshipstohaveelectronictransponders
foronshoremonitoringandbanningthesystemoflongstaysatseaandthesupplyships
thatmakethempossible.Buttheireffortshavegottenlittletraction.Theprofitsfor
seafoodbusinessesstillfarexceedtherisksforthosewhoexploitworkers,saidMarkP.
Lagon,whoformerlyservedastheStateDepartmentsambassadoratlargefocusedon
humantrafficking.
LisaK.Gibby,vicepresidentofcorporatecommunicationsforNestl,whichmakes
petfoodbrandsincludingFancyFeastandPurina,saidthatthecompanyisworkinghard
toensurethatforcedlaborisnotusedtoproduceitspetfood.Thisisneitheraneasynora
quickendeavor,sheadded,becausethefishitpurchasescomesfrommultipleportsand
fishingvesselsoperatingininternationalwaters.
Somepetfoodcompaniesaretryingtomoveawayfromusingfish.MarsInc.,for
example,whichsoldmorethan$16billionworthofpetfoodgloballyin2012,roughlya
quarteroftheworldsmarket,hasalreadyreplacedfishmealinsomeofitspetfoodand
willcontinueinthatdirection.By2020,thecompanyplanstouseonlynonthreatened
fishcaughtlegallyorraisedonfarmsandcertifiedbythirdpartyauditorsasnotbeing
linkedtoforcedlabor.
ThoughMarshasbeenmoreproactiveontheseissuesthanmanyofitscompetitors,
AllysonPark,aMarsspokeswoman,concededthatthefishingindustryhasreal
traceabilityissuesandstrugglestoensureproperworkingconditions.Thisisevenmore
challenging,shesaid,sinceMarsdoesnotpurchasefishdirectlyfromdocksbutfurtherup
thesupplychain.
Overthepastyear,Marsreceivedmorethan90,000cartonsofcatanddogfoodfrom
thecannerysuppliedbyoneoftheboatswhereLangLongwasheldcaptive,accordingto
theCustomsdocuments.

ShackledandAfraid
InSongkhla,onThailandssoutheastcoast,SuchatJunthalukkhanathumbedthrough
aninchthickbinder,eachpagewithaphotographofafleeingmarinerwhomhis
organization,theStellaMarisSeafarersCenter,hadhelped.

Wegetanewcaseeveryweek,hesaid.
Thefateofthemenwhoescapefromthefishingboatsoftenreliesonchance
encounterswithaltruisticstrangerswhocontactStellaMarisortheothergroupsthatmake
upanundergroundrailroadthatrunsthroughMalaysia,Indonesia,Cambodiaand
Thailand.
OnesuchinadvertentrescuerwasSomNang,41,whosaidhisnamemeansgood
luckinKhmer.Asquatman,heisquicktoshowofftheretractablemetalrodthathe
keepswithhimforprotection.
Havingworkeddocksideforseveralyears,SomNanghadheardthetalesoffishing
boatbrutality.Noneofitpreparedhim,however,forwhathewouldwitnessonhismaiden
voyageonamothershiplatein2013.
IwishIhadneverseenit,SomNangsaid,sittinginhiscinderblockhomejust
outsideSongkhla.Afterafourdaytripfromshore,SomNangssupplyboatpulled
alongsideadilapidatedThaiflaggedtrawlerwithaneightmancrewthathadjustfinished
twoweeksfishinginIndonesianwaterswheretheywerenotallowed.
ItwasdifficultnottonoticeMr.Long,whocrouchednearthefrontofthefishingboat,
SomNangsaid.Padlockedaroundhisbruisedneckwasarustymetalcollarattachedtoa
threefootchainloopedtoananchorpost.Mr.Long,whowastheonlyCambodianamong
theBurmesedeckhandsandtheThaiseniorcrew,stared,unblinking,atanyonewillingto
makeeyecontact.
Pleasehelpme,SomNang,whoisalsoCambodian,recountedMr.Longwhispering
inKhmer.Thatwas30monthsafterMr.LonghadmetatraffickeralongtheThai
Cambodianborderduringafestival.Mr.LongsaidheneverintendedtoworkinThailand
butthejobofferwasattractive.WhenheinsteadarrivedataportnearSamutPrakan,the
traffickersoldhimtoaboatcaptainforabout$530,lessthanawaterbuffalotypically
costs.Hewasthenmarchedupagangplank,andsentduewestforfourdays.
Apolicereportlaterdescribedhisaccountofhisarrivalincaptivity:Threefishing
boatssurroundedthesupplyboatandbeganfightingforMr.Long,thereportsays.
SimilarargumentsbrokeoutayearlaterwhenMr.Longwassoldagaininthemiddleof
thenightbetweentrawlers.
Thelongerhespentontheboats,themorehistraffickingdebtshouldhavelightened,
betteringhisprospectsforrelease.Buttheoppositewasthecase,Mr.Longexplained.The

moreexperiencehehad,thebleakerhisfate,thehigherthepriceonhishead,thehotter
theargumentsoverhimbetweenshorthandedtrawlercaptains.
Havingneverseentheseabefore,Mr.Longseemedtotanglehisportionofthenets
morethanothers,hesaid.Allthefishlookedthesametohimsmallandsilvermaking
sortingdifficult.Slowedatfirstbyintenseseasickness,Mr.Longsaidhespedupafter
witnessingacaptainwhippingamanforworkingtooslowly.
Mr.Longsufferedsimilarly.Hewasbeatwithapolemadeofwoodormetal,saida
casereportabouthimfromtheOfficeoftheNationalHumanRightsCommissionof
Thailand.Somedayshehadrestofonly1hour.Whendrinkingwaterranlow,deckhands
stolefoultastingicefromthebarrelsoffish.Ifoneoftheseamenputgearaway
incorrectly,thecrewmasterdockedthedaysmealfortheoffender.
Mr.Longsaidheoftenconsideredjumpingoverboardtoescape.Hedidnotknowhow
toswim,though,andheneveroncesawlandduringhistimeatsea,Mr.Longtoldadoctor
wholatertreatedhim.Atnighthehadaccesstotheshipsradio.Buthehadnoideawhom
orhowhecouldcallforhelp.
Asmuchashefearedthecaptains,Mr.Longsaid,theoceanscaredhimmore.Waves,
somefivestorieshigh,batteredthedeckinroughseas.
WhenSomNangsboatshowedup,Mr.Longhadbeenwearingtheshackleonandoff
foraboutninemonths.Thecaptaintypicallyputitonhimonceaweek,Mr.Longsaid,
wheneverotherboatsapproached.
Afteroffloadingfishforabout10minutes,SomNangsaidheaskedthecaptainwhy
Mr.Longwaschained.Becausehekeepstryingtoescape,thecaptainreplied,according
toSomNang.Basedonthelookshegotfromthecrewonhismothership,SomNangsaid
hefigureditbesttostopaskingquestions.Butafterreturningtoport,hecontactedStella
Maris,whichbeganraisingthe25,000baht,roughly$750,neededtobuyMr.Longs
freedom.
Overthenextseveralmonths,SomNangresuppliedthefishingboattwice.Eachtime,
Mr.Longwasshackled.SomNangsaidhediscreetlytriedtoreassurehimthathewas
workingtofreehim.
InApril2014,Mr.Longscaptivityendedinthemostundramaticofways.SomNang
carriedabrownpaperbagfullofThaicurrencyfromStellaMaristoameetingpointinthe
middleoftheSouthChinaSea,roughlyaweekstravelfromshore.Withfewwords

exchanged,themoneywashandedtoMr.Longscaptain.Hisdebtpaid,Mr.Long,rail
thin,steppedontoSomNangsboatandbeganhisjourneybacktosolidgroundandahope
forhome.
Thaiimmigrationofficialswhohaveinvestigatedhiscasesaytheyfounditcredible.
Mr.Longisintheprocessofbeingrepatriatedbacktohisnativevillage,KohSotin,in
Cambodia.HehopestogobacktohisoldjobcleaningalocalBuddhisttemple,hesaid.
ThaiandIndonesianmarineofficialssaytheyaretryingtolocatehislastboatcaptainbut
theyarenothopefulbecausetherearesomanyoftheseillegalvessels.
Duringhissixdayvoyagebacktoshoreonthemothership,Mr.Longcriedandslept
mostofthetime.SomNangsaidthecrewhidhimtoavoidwordgettingouttoother
fishingboatsabouttheirroleintherescue.
Mr.Long,whohasaperpetuallyvacantgaze,saidheneverwantedtoeatfishagain.
Headdedthatatfirsthehadtriedtokeeptrackofthepassingdaysandmonthsatseaby
etchingnotchesinthewoodenrailing.Eventuallyhegavethatup.IneverthoughtIwould
seelandagain,hesaid.
SomNang,whoisnowasecurityguardatafactory,saidhestoppedworkingatsea
shortlyafterhisrescuetrip.Hisexplanation:Idontlikewhatisoutthere.
KittyBennettandSusanC.Beachycontributedresearch.
AversionofthisarticleappearsinprintonJuly27,2015,onpageA1oftheNewYorkeditionwiththeheadline:
ForcedLaborforCheapFish.

2015TheNewYorkTimesCompany