A Taiwanese woman and five associates charged with trafficking Cambodians to work in slave-like conditions on fishing boats off the coast of Africa had their case heard by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.
Lin Yu Shin, the 54-year-old owner of the now defunct Giant Ocean International Fishing Co. was arrested in May last year after a string of complaints from duped fishermen returning from Africa to Cambodia.
The five Taiwanese associates, who allegedly helped Ms. Yu Shin transport labor to Africa through her Cambodian-registered labor recruitment agency, are Huang Chun Fa, Tshia Hishu, Lu-Tien Te, Chen Chun Num and Wu Futsang.
“The six suspects are charged with human trafficking,” Judge Kor Vandy told the court.
Ms. Lu Shin told the court that she was merely a translator for Giant Ocean, and that the five associates were her bosses.
“We selected [workers] in Phnom Penh and sent them to Malaysia. I did not know they were sent to Africa,” Ms. Lu Shin said.
A number of former Giant Ocean recruits and their families attended the hearing Wednesday and spoke outside the courthouse of how they were tricked into being trafficked by Giant Ocean, which was registered with the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies.
Starting in 2009, Giant Ocean reportedly lured Cambodians with the promise of jobs on Japanese fishing boats and monthly wages of $250, but sent them via Seoul to Africa, where they were sold into debt bondage.
NGOs estimated that Giant Ocean might have trafficked more than 1,000 Cambodians before being shut down by the Labor Ministry in 2012.
Kong Rith, 30, said he was tortured while working up to 20 hours a day.
“Five Cambodians and I were sent on a boat off the coast of Africa where we were trapped for one and a half years without salary,” Mr Rith said.
“I demand my salary for one and a half years and $5,000.”
Choeun Sophal, 28, from Kompong Chhnang province, told a similar story.
“Some days we worked the whole 24 hours but they told me they were sending money to my family in Phnom Penh, so it was OK” Mr. Sophal said.
“But I found out later that my family got $100 for the first month, $50 for the second month, and then, nothing,” he said, adding that he was at sea for one year.
A verdict in the case will be handed down April 29.
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