The 24th World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), held last week in Taiwan, focused on slavery at sea. Titled, Caught in the Net, it focused specifically on the welfare and lives of fishermen around the world.
In his opening address, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development at the Vatican, noted that 38 million people were engaged in fisheries, 90 percent of whom were working in small scale fisheries, largely located in Asia and Africa.
Flags of convenience still make identifying ownership difficult, said the Cardinal. Abuses are still present including cases in the fishing industry of forced labor and human trafficking. Exacerbating the problem is the practice of some fishing vessels being at sea for months or years, making it difficult for fishermen to report abuses.
Cardinal Bo of Myanmar observed that “A culture of indifference prevents us from seeing sea slaves and fishermen who are modern day refugees living and working in lawless seas.” The globalization of indifference must be challenged, he said. Bo highlighted that the Thai seafood industry, the third largest in world, is sustained by migrant labor, including many youths from Myanmar.
The United Nations, ILO Work in Fishing Convention, which comes into force this November, was warmly welcomed as a means of improving the welfare of fishermen. Bo noted that currently 25 million fishermen have little or no legal protection, which will change with the implementation of the convention.
AoS is the largest global seafarers’ welfare organization, visiting 70,000 ships each year. The value of AoS’s work around the globe was underscored by Mick Duthie of the Santa Marta Network, an anti-trafficking group. “Without your people, many victims would struggle to survive,” he said. The work of AoS to promote seafarers’ rights and the value of their seafarers’ wives associations around the world were applauded.
Concluding the Congress, Fr Bruno Ciceri, AoS’s international secretary highlighted three priorities for AoS’s work with fishermen; ensuring port chaplains visit fishing ports, raising awareness among consumers of human rights abuses in the fish supply chain and responding to Cardinal Bo’s “SoS to AoS” to establish an AoS ship visiting team in Myanmar.
The Congress is held every four years. This was the first time that it took place in Taiwan, which has one of the world’s biggest fishing industries.