GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 25 Feb) – At least 43 fishermen from this city who were arrested and detained in Indonesia last year due to illegal fishing have finally returned home following their repatriation by the Indonesian government.
The fishermen arrived at the city international airport aboard a Cebu Pacific flight from Manila on Tuesday, nearly six months after they were jailed in Ternate, Indonesia.
Fr. Rey Carvyn Ondap, executive director of the Passionist Center for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (PC-JPIC), said Wednesday the fishermen were crew members of fishing boat F/B Love Merben II that was apprehended for illegal fishing on Aug. 26 last year off the coast of eastern Indonesia.
He said Indonesian authorities eventually detained the arrested fishermen, who also lacked travel documents, in Ternate City in North Maluku province.
“The operator reportedly failed to renew the boat’s fishing registration and permit to operate in Indonesia so its crew was arrested and jailed,” he said.
The Maritime Industry Authority listed the boat’s operator as Felisa Abe of Barangay Tambler here but the fishing expedition was financed by local tuna firm Citra Minda Group of Companies.
Ondap said they got wind of the jailed fishermen’s plight after one of their relatives sought the assistance of Citra Mina’s workers’ union.
He said the union referred the matter to PC-JPIC, which immediately elevated it to labor group Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) and the Geneva-based International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF).
Sentro and IUF later sought the intervention of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), through its consulate in Manado, for the repatriation of the jailed fishermen, he said.
Joshua Mata, Sentro secretary general, said they practically “rescued” the 43 fishermen from the “inhuman situation” at the Indonesian jail.
He said some of the fishermen complained that they were physically abused by their jailers and were not fed properly.
The labor group sent one of its staff members based in this city to Ternate, Indonesia last Feb. 20 to facilitate the return travel of the fishermen, he said.
Mata said the move was aimed to ensure that all 43 fishermen were issued their tickets and proper travel documents.
Herbert Demos, Sentro staff member, said he was shocked upon seeing the condition of the jailed fishermen.
“I am poor, and was raised in poverty, but I cannot eat what our compatriots were eating in Ternate. The rice they ate had more rice weevils (lice) than rice grains, but they had no choice. I learned that sometimes they quarrel over food because of extreme hunger,” he said in a statement.
Mata blamed Citra Mina, the financier of the failed fishing expedition, for the sad plight of the jailed fishermen.
He said the fishermen and their families did not receive any help from the company during their ordeal.
Sentro and IUF shouldered the airfare of the repatriated fishermen and other travel and accommodation expenses.
The labor group gave a half sack of rice and a pack of grocery items to each of them upon their arrival here.
“Citra Mina should compensate all the fishermen for the whole time they were stuck in Ternate,” Mata said.
He said the company should also be investigated for its alleged involvement in illegal fishing activities
But Fred Lumba, Citra Mina spokesperson, claimed that the company had provided assistance to the fishermen.
He explained that the 43 fishermen were not company workers but under the employ of the fishing boat operator.
“(The company) gave them financial assistance for their fuel and food. They will just settle it upon their return with their harvest,” he said in an interview over TV Patrol Socsksargen.
“Even if they were not employees of Citra Mina, we still helped facilitate their repatriation,” Lumba added.