In 2006, a young Cambodian sculptor, Vannak Anan Prum, left his village to look for labouring work. He needed to earn enough money to pay for his wife Sokun’s impending hospital stay to give birth to their first child. He intended to be away for two months.
He would not see his wife again for five years. After a middleman on the Thai-Cambodian border promised he could earn a lot of money drying fish, Prum was sold into slave labour, sent to sea on a fishing trawler. He was forced to work around the clock and through storms, allowed a maximum two hours’ sleep by day and two hours at night.
Violence happened on the boat every day for the next four years as a way of keeping those enslaved in line, Prum tells Guardian Australia through a translator. He says people would disappear off the boats without warning, and were assumed to have been killed and thrown into the sea. One night, Prum says he saw one Thai worker cut another man’s head off with a cleaver.