The State Department on Tuesday cited abuses in Thailand’s huge fishing industry as part of an annual worldwide report on Trafficking in Persons. The report noted that men from Cambodia and Myanmar, also known as Burma, are trafficked aboard Thai ships and forced to work against their will. They include men like Vannak Prum, a Cambodian who spent three years on such a boat. Prum was among those honored at the State Department on Tuesday.
In the second of two stories, we pick up Prum’s tale when he was aboard the Thai boat.
Vannak Prum’s boat was fishing illegally deep inside Indonesian waters when the Indonesian navy spotted them. As the Indonesians neared, the captain hit the throttle.
“At first the soldiers didn’t want to fire on us,” Prum says. “But the captain wouldn’t stop.”
The patrol fired and, when that failed, they lobbed Molotov cocktails onboard. The vessel caught fire, and Prum — a former soldier — braved gunfire to put it out. The Burmese and Cambodian workers begged their Thai captain to stop, but he wouldn’t. The boat had stolen fish and kidnapped crew onboard.
With very little oversight or regulation, rogue Thai captains buy crew members from human traffickers and use them to plunder the fishing grounds of surrounding nations. If the workers disobey or slack off, they’re beaten with stingray tails, tire irons, engine belts and, in one case, a sword. …
Shannon Service and Becky Palmstrom
Cambodian Vannak Prum’s destiny changed in a dirt-road town called Malai. It’s a Cambodian outpost on the border with Thailand that is known for its involvement in the trafficking of human beings.
Prum arrived in Malai seven years ago searching for work. His wife was pregnant, and he needed money for the hospital bill. He intended to work for two months, but ended up meeting a human trafficker.
A few days later, Prum was sold onto a Thai fishing boat the length of a basketball court, where he worked in tight conditions with 10 men. He says he didn’t reach land again for three years. …
Shannon Service and Becky Palstrom