Friday, January 25, 2013

No justice for slave fishing

Sajo Oyang is South Korea's largest fishing company. Its also the company responsible for slave-fishing in New Zealand waters. Its predominantly Indonesian crews are reportedly treated like slaves: beaten, sexually-abused, forced to work in unsafe conditions, and (of course) underpaid. Last year, it looked like the South Korean authorities were finally goign to do something about this, bringing charges against the company and its managers for fraud and sexual abuse - charges which would have seen them in jail. Sadly, it hasn't worked out that way:

A top official of Korea's largest fishing company has escaped prosecution despite a report that he admitted ordering the forging of currency receipts to trick Immigration New Zealand over payment to low-wage crews.

Nine men either working for Sajo Oyang Corporation in Korea, or on their vessel Oyang 75 in New Zealand, will not be prosecuted by Korean authorities for a variety of offences, including allegations of forgery and assault.


Busan Regional Public Prosecutor Yoo Kyungpil said in his report that one of the accused, unnamed but described as the CEO of Sajo Industry (now part of Oyang), had admitted to his "suspected crimes".

He said it was the first time he had been accused of criminal activity, and would not be prosecuted for alleged abetting and fraudulent use of documents.

So, serious fraud, but as its a first offence he gets a free pass. I think we can call that a whitewash. As for the assault and sexual abuse charges, South Korean prosecutors claim they have no jurisdiction - despite the vessels being Korean flagged and therefore operating under Korean Law under UNCLOS. Either Korea has a serious legal loophole which renders all of its ships law-free zones, or someone is dragging their feet. And either way, its not acceptable. Serious crimes have been committed in New Zealand waters, including slavery, a crime under international law over which all nations have universal jurisdiction. If Korea disclaims all responsibility for investigating and prosecuting them, then we should take it up.