The manager of Giant Ocean International, a now-defunct recruitment firm notorious for abuse scandals, was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in jail for trafficking hundreds of Cambodian fishermen to work in slave-like conditions overseas.
Taiwanese national Lin Yu-shin, who ran the firm, was arrested in May last year in Siem Reap, where she was in hiding under a different name.
Anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection police tracked her down after receiving nearly 170 complaints that Lin’s company sold Cambodian fishermen into slavery, promising them lucrative jobs in Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan, but sending them instead to work up to 24-hour unpaid days on vessels primarily in Africa between 2009-2011.
Five of Lin’s associates, who remain at large and were tried in absentia, were also given 10-year sentences.
Kor Vandy, presiding judge of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, ordered Lin and her five accomplices to jointly pay $2,000 to $15,000 in withheld wages to each of the 74 victims who filed complaints in the case. The six were also ordered to jointly pay each victim $3,000 in compensation, and $650 to $1,000 in damages.
“We don’t have an exact number of how many fishermen they trafficked, but we estimate it could be as many as 1,000,” said Mom Sokchar, a program manager for Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW), adding that it is unknown how many of the enslaved fishermen sent abroad by Giant Ocean remain overseas.
The court yesterday said that any victims who have not yet filed a complaint against the agency could still do so and receive compensation and unpaid wages.
“I am very happy, as the court has found justice for me in this case,” Oeun Sophal, 28, a victim from Kampong Chhnang told the Post.
Sophal said he applied at Giant Ocean’s Phnom Penh office in 2010 to work as a labourer on a boat in Japan. Two months after applying, Sophal and four other men were recruited by the company with an offer of $150 per month.
“But when we boarded our flight, we were not headed to Japan, we were headed to South Africa,” he said. “While working in the South African sea, I was always beaten by the Chinese boss and his people, forced to work hard labour for 24 hours.”
After 18 months, Sophal managed to escape while the boat was being unloaded. He only saw $200 in payment from Giant Ocean the entire time he worked on the ship, he said.
Another victim present at the trial agreed in 2010 to work in Malaysia, but was instead sent by Giant Ocean to Hong Kong for two years.
“I also did not receive any payment from the company besides a $100 allowance offered to me to buy clothes before departing,” said Hy Channa, 29.
The fishermen’s all-too-familiar trafficking ordeals are not exclusive to the Giant Ocean recruitment agency; in 2012, the Ministry of Labour shut down similar firm T&P after rampant abuse complaints.
“In the fishing sector, these abuses are sadly typical – which raises serious questions about the desperation that is apparently driving Cambodians to pursue such jobs,” Phil Robertson, Southeast Asia coordinator for Human Rights Watch, said.
“The Giant Ocean case and conviction should be a wake-up call to abusive labour recruiting firms – but it will only be that if the government demonstrates the political will to hold them accountable,” he added.
In 2010, a report by the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking found that up to 31 per cent of the hundreds of thousands of Cambodian migrant fishermen working in Thailand reported being trafficked. And the rate of complaints isn’t declining.
“The number of fishermen reporting poor conditions is the same this year as last year,” LSCW’s Sokchar said.
But this year, the human-trafficking monitors are seeing an uptick in complaints about agencies charging fees to arrange travel, but then never sending the employees abroad.
“For these fishermen, the recruitment firms’ false promises push them into even deeper poverty,” Sokchar said.