Seven men who claim they were held as slaves on a Thai fishing boat were discovered alive by the Cambodian navy floating in the Gulf of Thailand after they jumped ship, police said Monday and Sunday.
The five Cambodians and two Thais claimed they had decided to take their chances on the high seas after being held captive on the boat since July without pay, said Sam Saroeun, Sihanoukville municipal immigration police chief.
On June 15, during a heavy rainstorm, the seven men jumped overboard as the boat approached Koh Tang Island, the location of an RCAF navy base, Sihanoukville Municipal Deputy Police Chief Tak Vantha said by telephone, citing a report by the navy.
Though he didn’t know the exact details, he said the men held on to floating objects and attempted to swim toward the island. Two men spent one night in the water and were discovered June 16; the navy discovered the other five fishermen June 17, he said.
“All seven men were forced to fish like slaves both night and day,” Tak Vantha said, adding that the men claimed their Thai captors beat them when they protested their servitude.
The five Cambodians were returned home Friday, and the two Thai nationals were returned to the Thai border Saturday, Sam Saroeun said, adding that the men were weakened from their time on the boat and their ordeal.
“They were very happy when they reached the mainland,” he added.
Chhur Heng, deputy anti-trafficking police chief for Sihanoukville, said authorities are investigating the case and searching for those responsible for the men’s enslavement.
However, he said, Cambodians make themselves vulnerable to such incidents when they sneak into Thailand illegally for work.
RCAF Navy Captain Van Sorn identified the Cambodian men as Ruon Phy, 21, and Thon Run, 21, of Battambang province; Pean Kim, 22, of Banteay Meanchey province; San Davin, 25, of Phnom Penh; and Pov Sambath, 54, of Takeo province.