Four Cambodians Flee Cargo Ship in Philippines

Four men returned to Cambodia on Sunday evening after escaping from a cargo ship docked in the Philippines and contacting the Cambodian Embassy in Manila last week, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The men told embassy officials on Thursday that they had been abused, overworked and underpaid on the ship, the Blue Emperor 1, ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said Sunday.

“They were forced to work even if they were sick, and they did not get their salaries as promised,” he said.

Mr. Sounry said that upon receiving their complaints, the embassy offered shelter to the four men and contacted New Unite HK Marine Shipping, which operates the ship and has an office in Manila.

“The company operating the ship agreed to pay for air[plane] tickets,” he said.

The four men—In Orn, 21; Eng Socheat, 35; Som Chamroeun, 28; and Mith Tola, 28—returned to Phnom Penh shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday.

Reached by telephone last night, Mr. Orn said he began working on the Blue Emperor earlier this month and was told about the harsh working conditions by four other Cambodians onboard who had been employed for at least six months. A fifth Cambodian, he said, escaped from the ship on August 13.

Mr. Orn said that the men were in Cambodia when they applied to work for New Unite HK Marine Shipping, and that they were told they would receive training to be mechanics or crewmen with monthly salaries of between $500 and $1,000.

“We had to go [below decks] and work very hard lifting heavy things and we had to work even when we were ill, and we were assigned to clean the toilet,” he said. “That is the opposite of what I was expecting when I left Cambodia.”

Mr. Orn said the company offered various excuses for why it could not pay him and his countrymen their promised salaries in full or on time. He said that he and the other three men fled the ship, which had been docked in the Port of Subic—about 80 km from Manila—on Thursday morning

“We started escaping from the ship at 10:30 a.m. after getting our passports,” he said, adding that the group made its way to the embassy after running away from the vessel on foot.

“We ran out—some of us in our underwear and without shirts—and a Chinese man was running after us,” he said. “The police stopped us and asked what happened and we said, ‘They are cheating us and violating our work contracts. We work hard but do not get money,’ and they let us go.”

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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