A group of Cambodian migrant fishermen is preparing to cremate five colleagues in Thailand’s southern Ranong province after they were struck by a mystery illness while working on a commercial fishing vessel in the Indian Ocean, an official said on Monday.
Cheam Lamatin, the labor attache at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, said that all 25 Cambodians aboard the long-haul vessel fell ill and that five remained hospitalized. Many of them were part of the same family, he said, adding that details of what had caused them to fall ill were “still sketchy.”
“We don’t have the reason, the cause of death. We just know that they became sick while on the open sea for a long time,” Mr. Lamatin said on Monday, explaining that the Cambodians returned to land last week for the first time since April.
“They were in the Indian Ocean, very far away, but we are waiting for more information from the hospital. The details are still sketchy.”
The Bangkok Post has reported that one Thai sailor also died and that the six were among 115 Cambodians, Burmese and Thai crewmembers who returned recently on a fleet of ships. Citing Thai health officials, the Post reported that the deaths took place between December 26 and January 13 and were due to a vitamin B1 deficiency.
The deaths are the latest blight on an industry that has come under increasing fire for its reliance on cheap migrant labor—much of it illegal and exploitative.
Tens of thousands of poor, uneducated men are often trafficked out of Cambodia and Burma to serve the seafood industry in Thailand, which sells to some of the biggest firms in the world.
Mr. Lamatin said on Monday that 15 of the stricken Cambodians had left the hospital and were preparing a funeral ceremony for their friends and relatives, while five were still hospitalized in stable condition.
“The relatives don’t have the documents to travel to Thailand [for a funeral],” he said.
“The ones who are still alive will burn the dead bodies and send the remains back to Cambodia.”