PHUKET – Two Burmese migrants are lost at sea after attempting to escape from a fishing boat off the coast of Thailand, Thai media reported. A third escapee made it to shore alive and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he reported the incident to local police.
The survivor, 23-year-old Maung Lay, was trafficked into Thailand and sold to a boat owner in Thailand’s Phuket province about three weeks ago, according to the Thai Rath Daily. Maung Lay reportedly told police that a job broker promised him work at a fish-cracker factory for a fee of about US$300. The broker then facilitated his border crossing into Thailand and transport to the southwest coast.
Maung Lay said he never arrived at the factory, and was instead forced to work long hours on a fishing boat with no breaks. After several weeks, he and two others decided to attempt an escape. He told police that he saw the other two men disappear into the water after swimming for several hours.
The two have not yet surfaced and are presumed dead. Maung Lay washed up on the beaches of Thalang district on the evening of 8 June, where local villagers found him and took him to the hospital.
“We found out about him from the hospital,” the superintendent of Tah Chat Chai Port police station told DVB by phone on Tuesday. “We are unable to determine exactly which boat they jumped from or the date of the incident.”
Police said that action will be taken if the boat owner can be identified, and that Maung Lay will be deported for entering Thailand illegally.
On Tuesday, The Guardian published a damning investigative report connecting forced labour on Thai fishing boats to retailers worldwide. The report claimed that the world’s largest producer of prawns, Charoen Pokphand, feeds its farmed prawns on fishmeal purchased from suppliers directly connected to boats manned by trafficked workers.
Slave labour on Thailand’s so-called “ghost-ships” often comes from employment brokers, like the one mentioned by Maung Lay. This kind of human trafficking is so prevalent in Thailand’s multi-billion dollar seafood industry that the Thai Ministry of Labour established a separate police task force specifically for investigating boats and fisheries.
Thailand is facing heavy pressure from the international community — particularly the United States — for endemic migrant abuses and a chronically poor record on human trafficking. The US State Department is due to release an annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report this month, which ranks trafficking records based on frequency, prosecutions and efforts to improve.
Thailand has idled on the State Department’s “Tier-2 watchlist” for four consecutive years, which means that this year’s assessment must either raise or lower their ranking. A downgrade to Tier-3 status would subject Thailand to automatic economic sanctions.