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Thai Boat Owner Arrested, Facing Human Trafficking Charges

BANGKOK, THAILAND—Another player in a cross-border trafficking ring can no longer exploit vulnerable workers in Thailand, as law enforcement arrested a Thai boat owner accused of trafficking a Cambodian fisherman and subjecting him to forced labour conditions on his vessel.

The accused boat owner worked closely with Vanna, a Thailand-based broker who routinely sold Cambodian men to captains and owners of Thai fishing vessels. When Vanna offered Sitha* a job, he was told he’d receive regular wages. Months later, however, as his fishing vessel sailed in Malaysian waters, Sitha still hadn’t gotten paid. He was forced to work around the clock, yet he often didn’t receive any food and faced harsh abuse. His identity documents were witheld, and even when his boat pulled into a port, he wasn’t allowed to freely go onshore.

Sitha shared that, on many occasions, he asked to leave the vessel, but he was always denied—and, sometimes, he was beaten.

“I was feeling desperate,” he said, “and I was resolved to run for my life.”

When he saw a chance for escape, he took it. He was able to get in touch with IJM, who has been working with Thai authorities on the case ever since.

Sitha at his home, with an IJM social worker.

This trafficking ring—made up of a network of recruiters, brokers and employers stretching from Cambodian villages to Thailand’s ports—is infamous for exploiting hundreds of Cambodian workers like Sitha in Thailand’s fishing industry. A handful of players have already been brought to justice in Cambodia and Thailand. Vanna, the broker who sold Sitha onto the accused’s boat, has already been convicted for his crimes in both Cambodia and Thailand.

The investigation into Vanna’s crimes exposed even more Thailand-based players in the network, leading Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to open a new special case against the accused. DSI arrested him on 30 April 2021.

Back in his home community in Cambodia, when Sitha heard the news of the arrest, he said, “I was so happy,” and “so thankful” for those who are pursuing justice for survivors like him.

On his behalf, IJM has helped submit a request to the Thai government for compensation from the government’s Trafficking in Persons fund for the wages he should’ve earned, plus compensation for the abuse he suffered. Last year, the request was approved, and Sitha received 112,500 Baht (about A$4,600). This amount includes the the equivalent of the Thai minimum wage for every day that he endured forced labour.

Sitha and his family were overjoyed with tears upon receiving the money, which they planned to use to fix their home and purchase land to sustain their family.

*A pseudonym to protect the identity of this survivor.

Header image: Thai DSI agents arrest the boat owner.

To learn more about forced labour slavery in the Thai fishing industry, see IJM’s Not in the Same Boat report here.

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