Feds pledge closer scrutiny of longline fleet in wake of abuse claims

Feds pledge closer scrutiny of longline fleet in wake of abuse claims

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Several times a month, federal agents and the Coast Guard board longline fishing boats docked at Honolulu Harbor to interview foreign-born fishermen.

Now, following allegations that foreign workers aboard the boats are being abused at sea, those random inspections will increase.

"Additional attention, additional scrutiny is helpful," U.S. Customs and Border Protection Director Brian Humphrey said. "We've increased the number of our operations here at the piers."

Boat owner Richard Gallimore welcomes the increased oversight.

"That's fine with me. They can come down and inspect my boats any time they want, which they do. They do a good job," he said.

Besides the dockside visits, federal observers who accompany longline crews at sea will now submit daily reports to their supervisors.

Boat owner Guada Gallimore said she and her husband have nothing to hide, and crewmen aboard their four fishing boats are happy.  "They have bathrooms, air conditioning, they have their own cook. We're talking care of our crew very well," she said.

Humphrey said since 2005, only 12 complaints involving Hawaii's longline boats warranted further investigation. They included pay disputes and conflicts among crew members but no complaints of physical mistreatment.

The increased oversight comes in the wake of an in-depth Associated Press report that alleged foreign workers who catch Hawaii's seafood are confined to boats for years at a time and subject to abusive treatment.

The allegations have rocked Hawaii's longline fishing community, and spurred calls for investigations.

At Honolulu Harbor on Thursday, though, several fishermen said they were surprised by the allegations.

Longline fisherman Eddie Keliinoi said he's shocked that some fishermen claim they're being abused.

"No. We're not getting mistreated! No way! It's the hardest thing I ever did in my life, but I love it," he said.

"Everything's good," added fisherman Roy Aquino.

He's been on longline boats off and on for the past few years.

There are 140 longline vessels in Hawaii's fleet. Fishermen sign one-year contracts, and they get a base salary plus bonuses. When their contract is over Homeland Security interviews the fishermen again.

"If there were problems that lead to even one unhappy or disgruntled or mistreated crew member, the entire crew is less effective," Humphrey said. "If they're less effective, they don't make money,"

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