The deaths of four Indonesians after working on Chinese fishing vessels – which came to light last month after footage emerged showing one of their bodies being dumped into the sea – has sparked calls in Indonesia for tighter rules or even a moratorium on the recruitment of seafarers for such ships. Moh Abdi Suhufan, national coordinator for activist group Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia, said the moratorium was necessary while Beijing and Jakarta undertake investigations into what occurred on the Long Xing 629 fishing vessel, after seamen reported being forced to work for up to two days without rest or proper sustenance and being verbally and physically abused. Indonesian fishermen who died on Chinese boats faced abuse, 21-hour days Suhufan said it had been indicated that the number of Indonesians facing such abuse was “more than what is currently known”, and if Jakarta continued to allow Chinese fishing companies to recruit in the country, “that means the government would let more victims be trapped in this abuse”. In interviews with a lawyer in South Korea after they finally disembarked the Long Xing 629 in April following more than a year at sea, the 14 surviving Indonesian crew members described being made to work for up to 21 hours a day with only unhygienically cooked meals of rice and bait fish to eat and salty, distilled seawater to drink. Since then, further reports of abuse have emerged on other Chinese vessels, with Indonesian police saying late last month that they had opened a case into the death of a fisherman aboard Lu Qing Yuan Yu 623, whose body was reportedly thrown into the sea off the coast of Somalia in January after he had been beaten with metal pipes and glass bottles. Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia said it had also received reports through its centres in Tegal and Bitung of an Indonesian dying aboard a Pakistan -flagged ship in Karachi, who had been transferred there from a China-flagged vessel while sick and subsequently abandoned. Indonesia condemns ‘inhuman’ treatment of its fishermen on Chinese boats The Chinese embassy in Indonesia last month said it “attached great importance to the issue involving Indonesian crew members on a Chinese fishing vessel” and authorities were currently investigating. “This is an unfortunate incident ... We hope and believe that based on the facts following the investigation and in accordance with relevant laws, regulations and business contract, the issue will soon be resolved properly through friendly consultation between both sides,” it said in a statement. About 23,500 Indonesians are currently working aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels, according to government estimates. Licences to employ such workers can be issued through five different channels, Suhufan said, creating a lack of oversight that he said could be avoided if the process was simplified and routed through the country’s Manpower Ministry. For the sake of the family, I go, even though [my] life is at stake Former Long Xing 629 crew member One Indonesian crew member who worked aboard Tian Yu 8 – owned by the same Chinese firm, Dalian Ocean Fishing, as Long Xing 629 – told This Week In Asia how the agency that had recruited him initially said he would work on a South Korean vessel. The 31-year-old man from Sumedang regency in West Java province, who requested anonymity as he is still seeking about US$5,100 in unpaid wages and bonuses for 27 months’ work, said he had spent almost US$1,000 in fees and getting the documents he needed to be hired. When he arrived in Busan, South Korea , however, he was assigned to a Chinese ship – where he said he was subject to constant physical abuse, which he endured for the promised pay of US$300 per month plus bonuses, rising to US$320 in his second year. Ultimately, he said he was paid US$6,800, or the equivalent of 22 months’ wages, for his work aboard the Tian Yu 8 before returning to Indonesia in April. The minimum regional wage in Sumedang was 2.678 million rupiah (US$181.5) per month in 2018. He put himself through the ordeal, he said, in the hopes of earning enough money to build a house for his family. “We must have savings in our old age,” he said. “For the sake of the family, I go, even though [my] life is at stake.” Indonesians hired to work on foreign-flagged fishing vessels, including the 31-year-old mentioned above, tend to come from inland areas of the country with little to no knowledge of working at sea. Those who have heard of what life is like aboard Chinese fishing vessels rarely want to work on them, according to Azizah Nur Hapsari, a campaigner on Indonesia with British NGO the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). “They didn’t want to work on Chinese-flagged vessels, they already knew about how the Chinese usually pay very less than usual … but they got deceived,” she said. Companies have been known to post job offers on Facebook to lure Indonesians to the coast with promises of monthly salaries of US$450 to US$500. But according to a 20-year-old former fishing vessel worker who spoke to the EJF, after a six-month stay in a dormitory at his own expense, he received an employment contract specifying wages as low as US$300 per month, and was only given a day to sign it. If he did not, he would face a hefty penalty, he said. Hapsari called on Jakarta to better protect Indonesian seamen and regulate crew recruitment agencies, pointing to a Law on Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers enacted in 2017 which she said was supposed to have provided for this. Also, as some countries such as China are not signatories to the International Labour Organisation’s 2007 Work in Fishing Convention, Hapsari said it fell to Jakarta to draw up bilateral agreements that cover workers’ rights, adding that standardised contracts would help to protect employees’ interests.