Dockside signs urge longline fishermen to report abuses - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Dockside signs urge longline fishermen to report abuses

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - About 130 longline fishing boats put into port at Honolulu Harbor. Each vessel has from 6 to 10 fishermen on board. The deck hands come from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, China and Vietnam. Federal and local law enforcement want to know if they are being illegally forced into labor.

"Even though they might be working in depraved working conditions, the job is often better than what they can get in their host nation, so they just endure what it is," said Karl Muller, Homeland Security Victim Assistance Specialist.

Newly installed signs along Pier 17 encourage longline fishermen to speak up if they feel they are being abused. A handful of alleged human trafficking cases in Hawaii's longline industry are presently being investigated. Border Enforcement Security Task Force officers said it helps to separate the crew from the captain when asking fishermen questions.

"How's your life on vessel? Are you getting paid? Are you eating enough? Are you sleeping in conditions that would be humane? And these are all concerns," BEST agent Robert Burgess said.

Investigators look for signs during dockside observations and vessel boardings.

"We're looking for behavioral indicators. If they're looking for coaching or they're looking to someone else to answer questions for them," Muller said.

But the challenge is deciphering if working conditions aboard the boats meet the measure of human trafficking. It can be a cultural Catch 22.

"There's a relative disparity between what we consider to be standards of living versus standards of living from other cultures in places where they may be used to something else. It looks like trafficking or smuggling," Burgess said.

The dockside signs are in six languages. More signs will be posted at Pier 38, the other dock site for longline fishing boats.

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