Ch’ienchen Fishing Harbor, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. Photo: Google Maps

A total of 19 people have been charged with offenses relating to human trafficking and restricting others’ freedom in Kaohsiung City, in southern Taiwan. It is alleged they locked up 81 migrant fishermen, of various nationalities, in cramped conditions, in the Ch’ienchen and Xiaogang areas of the city.

China Times reports that during an investigation into the case of a runaway Vietnamese fisherman last year, the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office received a plea from the defendant, who explained that he and other fishermen, of various nationalities, who had initially entered Taiwan legally, were being forcibly detained by abusive employers.

Following the complaint, officers conducted raids and rescued 81 migrant fishermen from Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Tanzania and elsewhere, from two separate premises in Ch’ienchen and Xiaogang.

The fishermen were locked up in windowless rooms installed with closed-circuit television cameras and measuring roughly 36 square meters.

The fishermen, who were required to work more than 10 hours a day, earned around US$300 to US$500 a month, which is significantly lower than the legal minimum wage. No overtime payments were given.

The Prosecutors Office estimates that up to NT$3.68 million (US$122,000) was illegally obtained by the 19 defendants in exploiting the migrant fishermen. The defendants are 11 members of a fishing crew led by a vessel owner surnamed Lin, two managers, and six individuals who ran operations at the harbor.

The defendants argue that migrant workers, particularly those from Vietnam, have been notorious for running away, and that extreme measures were therefore required to man their boats.