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Thailand Arrests 2 Alleged Slave Brokers

FILE - A fisherman sits as fishing vessels are seen docked after fishing operations stopped at a port in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand.

Thai officials said Wednesday they arrested two key figures in a human trafficking ring that provides slave crews for the country's fishing boats, the latest move in a crackdown on widespread labor abuses in Southeast Asia's fishing industry.

Officials from Thailand's Department of Special Investigation told a news conference the two men were “big figures” in a human trafficking syndicate in Samut Sakorn province, the country's biggest fishing hub, and had lured about 60 victims a year since 2008.

Chayuthphong Charoenporn, 50, and Samruay Chatkrod, 53, hired middlemen to find workers at train stations, bus terminals and other public places, said Lt. Col. Komvich Padhanarath.

Komvich said the middlemen would approach men who looked poor and ask them if they wanted jobs and then take them to a shelter where they were sometimes drugged or given alcohol to keep quiet and then sold to boat owners for 30,000 baht ($900) per person. The laborers were then taken without their consent to fishing boats near Ambon island in Indonesia, he said.

“These two illegal brokers are quite big figures,” said Paisith Sungkahapong, director of the human trafficking division at the DSI, which is Thailand's equivalent of the FBI. He said they admitted to human trafficking, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or capital punishment, but denied the charges of arbitrary detention.

“They were trying to persuade people and deceive those people to work in the fishing boats,” Paisith said, adding that many of the laborers didn't know they were agreeing to work on boats let alone in a foreign country. “They did not know they would be working overseas.”

The arrests were the latest following an Associated Press investigation into slavery in Southeast Asia's fishing industry.

Also Wednesday, the Thai government's new Fisheries Act took effect. The law was drafted to improve official oversight and impose stricter measures to prevent illegal practices in the Thai fishing industry, which has come under mounting pressure from the U.S. and European Union.