Ministry to Investigate Complaint From Seamen

The Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department will investigate a complaint made against a local maritime school Tuesday by seven Cambodian seamen who fled from a pair of cargo ships last month after enduring what they described as slave-like conditions, an official said.

The men—In On, 21; Eng Socheat, 35; Sorm Chamroeun, 28; Mith Tola, 28; Tang Chanthorn, 33; Heang Buntong, 22; and Reth Nara, 29—claim that the Cambodia Marine Human Resource Institute (CMHRI) in Phnom Penh misled them about work on the Chinese-owned Blue Emperor I and Xin Shang.

From left: Heang Buntong, Tang Chanthorn, Sorm Chamroeun and In On speak to reporters outside the headquarters of the Interior Ministry's anti-human trafficking department in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
From left: Heang Buntong, Tang Chanthorn, Sorm Chamroeun and In On speak to reporters outside the headquarters of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“The school promised that…we would have skills training on the ship for at least six months, and that afterward we would work on the ship and receive a [monthly] salary of about $500,” Mr. Chamroeun said.

“But after the six months, into my seventh month, I did not get my salary,” he said, adding that he had paid the maritime institute $2,060 in fees.

Mr. Chanthorn said the Blue Emperor I’s predominantly Chinese crew frequently demeaned their Cambodian shipmates.

“The Chinese crew treated me like I was a slave,” he said.

Mr. Buntong said his responsibilities aboard the ship, which included checking electrical cables without proper safety equipment, led him to risk a dangerous escape. He said he, Mr. Nara and two others fled the Xin Shang while anchored 15 km off the coast of Vietnam.

“I was scared that if I didn’t escape I might die. So we jumped off the ship with a lifeboat and used it to float for 1 km until we were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen,” Mr. Buntong said.

The seven said they took their complaint to the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department after meeting with the Ministry of Labor, which informed them that CMHRI did not have an agreement with the ministry to send workers abroad.

Pen Channa, deputy chief of the cross-border trafficking bureau at the anti-human trafficking department, confirmed receipt of their complaint Tuesday afternoon.

“We have already received their complaint,” Mr. Channa said. “We will open an investigation into it.”

In an interview last week, Ryan Yang, crewing department manager at CMHRI, said the school had arranged for the men to be trained as “able-bodied seamen” aboard the Blue Emperor I and the Xin Shang and that the students had agreed to work unpaid for a six-month training period. He attributed the problems of the men on the Blue Emperor I to their “personality, mentality and attitude.”

Contacted Tuesday, Mr. Yang declined to comment.

Sam Dawson, a spokesman for the ITF Seafarer’s Trust based in London, said in an email last week that CMHRI’s claims that their graduates would be paid after a six-month period was a violation of the International Labor Organization’s Maritime Labor Convention.

“Any attempt to not pay seafarers for six months on the basis that they will be paid only when they move up a grade is exploitation and tantamount to fraud,” Mr. Dawson said.

“It sounds very much like the operator or manning agent is taking these seafarers for a ride.”

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