PHNOM PENH - The owner of a major fishing company is now in jail and awaiting sentencing for alleged human trafficking, in a case that highlights the major dangers faced by unwitting workers forced to labor in international waters.
Lin Yu Shin, the owner of the Giant Ocean International Fishery, is accused of trafficking hundreds of Cambodians and sending them to work in slave-like conditions on fishing vessels around the world. Authorities say her case underscores the need for better education about lawful migration and the dangers of illegal work abroad.
Lin was arrested in Siem Reap province in May and is currently in Prey Sar prison awaiting sentencing. The 53-year-old woman is accused of trafficking mostly male workers from rural communities into the international fishing industry.
Chiv Phally, deputy chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking and juvenile protection department, said police received complaints about Lin from 169 families, which sparked an investigation in 2011. Families claimed her company had cheated workers and sent their sons to work as fishermen in Japan and other countries, promising wages of around $200 per month. Those workers, police say, where then sold to fishing operations on different ships around the world.
Police caught up with Lin after she closed her company, changed her name and began operating a souvenir shop at a night market, Chiv Phally said.
Twenty-three-year-old Yei Chenda was among Lin’s alleged victims. He told VOA Khmer that he and five other villagers from Chi Kreang district, Siem Reap province, agreed to work for Giant Ocean in 2011, expecting fair wages for work in Japan.
“But that was a lie,” he said. He traveled from Cambodia to South Korea, and that’s when things went wrong, he said. “They sold me to one captain of a fishing ship in Fiji, where my passport was taken and I was forced to work nearly 18 hours a day.”
He was told by the Taiwanese captain of the ship that if he worked hard, he would be paid extra, with his monthly salary going to his parents in Cambodia. The ship did not arrive in port for months, at which time he called his parents, who told him they had received “nothing” from the company, Yei Chenda said.
Chiv Phally said Cambodian police have found at least 700 cases where Cambodians were sent to work on ships by Lin’s company, winding up across the globe, off the coasts of South Africa, Fiji, Qatar, Malaysia and Singapore.
“Workers were forced to work in slave-like conditions, and some were seriously abused,” he said.
Many impoverished Cambodians are making the choice to find jobs abroad, with few prospects at home, subjecting thousands of people to abuse outside the country. This is especially true of Cambodian maids working in Malaysia, as well as young Cambodian men forced into the fishing industry. In the last five months, an estimated 34,000 Cambodians have gone to work abroad, in places like Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea or Japan, according to government statistics.
Um Mean, secretary of state for the Ministry of Labor, told VOA Khmer the government has worked to educate the public about legal migration, but there are still opportunists out there who are able to cheat people into illegal work and forced labor.
Giant Ocean had been operating in Cambodia before it was issued a license in 2009, according to the Association of Employment Agencies. The company was expelled from the association 2012.
Moeun Tola, head of a labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said that the company’s work without a license suggests some collaboration between the company and corrupt officials. His organization received many complaints about the company, he said.
Kun Nath, another alleged victim of Lin’s company, told VOA Khmer he had been sent to work in South Africa. He left his home in Kampot province with two brothers and three other villagers in 2012. They too were told by a middleman they would be paid $200 a month to work in Japan. “Because we are poor, my parents agreed to let me and my two brothers go,” he said.
“In one day, we would sleep only two or three hours,” he said. “And though we would work for two or three days continuously, we still had just three hours to sleep. Sometimes, the owner of the ship even hit me and my brothers when we fell asleep. I was thrown into the sea many times, but other Khmers rescued me.”
Kun Nath’s mother, Touch Sep, said she trusted the middleman, whom she knew well, and did not know of her sons’ suffering until she got a call from Kun Nath, who is the eldest. He told her they were badly treated, that they were not eating well, and that they were forced to work without rest, she said. “When I knew that, I cried everyday, and I went to Phnom Penh to ask for help from the police and NGOs. I did everything to get my boys back, and I swear I will never let them go abroad again.”