U.S. State Dept. Recognizes Chaplain for Advocacy in Thai Fisheries

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken presents Apinya Tajit with the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award

Published Jul 21, 2022 7:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

Seafarers' chaplains work out of the public sight, along the quayside or out at an anchorage, and rarely do they get individual recognition for their essential role. But one chaplain recently received a measure of high-level praise from the U.S. government. Apinya Tajit, a deputy director for Stella Maris in Chanthaburi, Thailand, was one of six people honored with the U.S. Department of State 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award. The honor was given in recognition of her "heartfelt and unwavering persistence in advocating for workers exploited in forced labor, particularly in the fishing industry."

Thailand's fishing sector has long faced international criticism for labor abuses, particularly for treatment of migrant workers from neighboring states. Tajit is known for her work in assisting fishermen from Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Burma, and Bangladesh, and she has helped hundreds over the course of her career. 

In one case, Apinya helped with the rescue of nine seafarers from a reefer ship. The crew had sent her an email pleading for help, saying that they were injured and were desperate to get home to their families. With her intervention, the crewmembers were repatriated with wages, and the case was successfully prosecuted in court. 

“We return sons to their mothers, fathers to their children, and husbands to their wives. Seafarers may be out of sight, but they are not out of mind," said Tajit. "We assist by way of helping identify victims, rescuing them, helping them reintegrate into society. We provide training, access to legal advice, and funding to help them rebuild their lives. Stella Maris is involved in every process that the victims face, so that they are not fighting alone."

Tajit also serves as a seafarer advocate for ITF, and she works closely with Thai authorities for inspections. In addition, she conducts outreach to schools to teach children about the risk of human trafficking.