Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 2nd 2015 Contents B5
Thursday, July 2, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
•From Page B4
In 1990, his father drowned while
fishing, leaving him as the man in
charge at just 15. He helped cook,
wash clothes and care for his siblings,
but they kept sliding deeper into
poverty. So when a fast-talking broker
visited the neighbourhood three years
later with stories of jobs in Thailand,
Myint was easily wooed.
The agent offered US$300 for just
a few months of work---enough for
some families to survive on for a year.
He and several other young men
quickly put their hands up to go.
His mother, Khin Than, wasn t so
sure. He was only 18 years old, with
no education or travel experience.
But he kept begging, arguing that he
wouldn t be gone long and relatives
already working there could look after
Finally, she relented.
Neither of them knew it but, at
that moment, Myint began a journey
that would take him thousands of
miles away from his family. He would
miss births, deaths, marriages and
the unlikely transition of his country
from a dictatorship to a bumpy
democracy. He would run away twice
from the ruthless forced labour on
a fishing boat.
Yet on the day he left home in
1993, all Myint saw was promise.
The broker hustled his new recruits
to grab their bags immediately, and
Myint s 10-year-old sister wiped tears
from her cheeks as she watched him
walk down the dirt track away from
their village. His mother wasn t
home. He never got to say goodbye.
Seafood: US$7b a year industry
Thailand earns US$7 billion a year
from a seafood industry that runs
on labour from the poorest parts of
the country, along with Cambodia,
Laos and especially Myanmar, oth-
erwise known as Burma. Up to
200,000 estimated migrants, most
of them illegal, work at sea. Their
catch ends up halfway around the
globe in the United States, Europe
and Japan --- on dinner tables and
in cat food bowls.
As overfishing decimates stocks
near Thailand s shores, trawlers have
been forced to venture farther and
farther into more plentiful foreign
waters. The dangerous work keeps
men at sea for months or even years
with fake Thai identity documents,
trapped aboard floating prisons run
by captains with impunity. Though
Thai officials deny it, they have long
been accused of turning a blind eye
to such practices.
After easily skirting police at the
border with Thailand and being held
in a small shed with little food for
more than a month, Myint was
shoved onto a boat. The men were
at sea for 15 days and finally docked
in the far eastern corner of Indonesia.
The captain shouted that everyone
on board now belonged to him, using
words Myint would never forget:
"You Burmese are never going
home. You were sold, and no one is
ever coming to rescue you."
He was panicked and confused.
He thought he would be fishing in
Thai waters for only a few months.
Instead the boys were taken to the
Indonesian island of Tual in the Ara-
fura Sea, one of the world s richest
fishing grounds, stocked with tuna,
mackerel, squid, shrimp and other
lucrative species for export.
Myint spent weeks at a time on
the open ocean, living only on rice
and the parts of the catch no one
else would eat. During the busiest
times, the men worked up to 24
hours a day, hoisting heavy nets rip-
pling with fish. They were forced to
drink foul-tasting boiled sea water.
He was paid only US$10 a month,
and sometimes not at all. There was
no medicine. Anyone who took a
break or fell ill was beaten by the
Thai captain, who once lobbed a
piece of wood at Myint for not mov-
ing fish fast enough.
Whipped with stingray tails,
bodies stored with fish
Nearly half the Burmese men sur-
veyed by the AP said they were beat-
en, or witnessed others being abused.
They were made to work almost non-
stop for nearly no pay, with little
food and unclean water. They were
whipped with toxic stingray tails,
shocked with Taser-like devices and
locked in a cage for taking breaks or
attempting to flee. Sometimes, the
men said, the bodies of those who
died were stashed in the ship s freezer
alongside the fish.
Workers on some boats were killed
for slowing down or trying to jump
ship. The Burmese fishermen said
others flung themselves overboard
because they saw no escape. Myint
spotted several bloated bodies floating
in the water. By 1996, after three
years, he had had enough. Penniless
and homesick, he waited until his
boat returned to Tual. Then he went
into the office on the dock and, for
the first time, asked to go home.
His request was answered by a
helmet cracking his skull. As blood
oozed out, he used both hands to
hold the wound together. The Thai
man who hit him repeated the words
that already haunted him: "We will
never let you Burmese fishermen go.
Even when you die." That was the
first time he ran away.
•Continues on Page B8
Forced to move thousands of miles away from family for work
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