Unveiling the Tragedy: Neglect and Death Among Deckhands on Chinese Squid Ships

In the vast expanse of the open ocean, a chilling crisis unfolds as deckhands on Chinese squid ships endure neglect, exploitation, and, in some tragic cases, death. This article sheds light on the harrowing conditions faced by these seafarers as they embark on treacherous journeys in pursuit of squid, often paying a high price for their labor.

Beriberi: A Preventable Tragedy

They treat us like dogs

Beriberi, a debilitating disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine), is claiming lives at sea. It manifests in two forms – "wet" beriberi affecting the cardiovascular system and "dry" beriberi impacting the nervous system. Symptoms include swelling, shortness of breath, vomiting, and muscle dysfunction. While painful and slow-acting, beriberi is preventable and reversible.

  • "Beriberi fatality at sea is a red flag for severe neglect or captivity," warns Nicola Pocock, a specialist on the disease.
  • Preventing beriberi is simple with proper nutrition or vitamin supplements.

The Chinese Squid Fleet: A Perilous Workplace

They treat us like dogs

Chinese squid ships, which employ at-sea transshipment to remain at sea for extended periods, are hotspots for beriberi. These vessels often stay at sea for years, lacking B1 supplements and sometimes harboring trafficked crew members. The consequence of prolonged diets devoid of B1 can be fatal.

  • The at-sea transshipment strategy keeps ships away from shore for extended durations.
  • Lack of B1 supplements and dietary issues contribute to beriberi cases on Chinese squid ships.

Exploitative Contracts: A Desperate Path to Sea

Deckhands, like Fadhil, find themselves on these perilous vessels through manning agencies. These agencies connect workers to ships, but the contracts they sign often come at a great cost.

  • Contracts stipulate long workdays, no sick leave, and deduct monthly food expenses.
  • Collateral requirements, lower-than-promised salaries, and penalty clauses create financial hardships for crew members.

Neglect and Consequences

Neglect and indifference aboard these ships have led to devastating consequences. In some cases, the disease beriberi acts as a slow-motion murderer, claiming lives while proper care remains elusive.

  • Forensic pathologist Victor Weedn equates letting sailors die of beriberi to "slow-motion murder."
  • Proper care, including B1 supplementation, can reverse beriberi within 24 hours.

Statistics on forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking (Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking)

International concerns arise as products tied to forced labor find their way into the global market. While laws aim to prevent such products from entering the American economy, the seafood industry faces challenges due to a lack of comprehensive import tracking systems.

  • Laws are in place to counter forced labor, but the seafood industry faces difficulties due to tracking limitations.
  • Investigations by security research firms reveal evidence of forced labor and exploitation.

Deckhands on Chinese squid ships are dying of neglect, a heart-wrenching reality that requires global attention and action. As stories like Fadhil’s come to light, it becomes clear that the exploitation and indifference that persist at sea must be confronted to ensure the safety and dignity of these seafarers.

The Ongoing Struggles of Deckhands at Sea

What are the working conditions on Chinese squid ships?

  • Isolation: Workers on Chinese squid ships endure isolation, spending up to two years almost entirely at sea, often with no access to the internet or phone signal.
  • Long Hours: Workdays are gruelingly long, routinely lasting 15 hours, six days a week, leaving little time for rest or recreation.
  • Cramped Quarters: Crew quarters are cramped and overcrowded, with 10 men sharing rooms originally designed for half that number.

Why are deckhands on Chinese squid ships at risk of neglect?

  • Economic Pressures: Captains of distant-water fishing ships hesitate to return sick or injured crew members to shore due to the financial costs associated with lost time, fuel, and missed work.
  • Logistical Challenges: Complex logistics further exacerbate the situation. Swells at sea can create hazardous conditions, making it difficult for large ships to approach one another for crew transfers.

What is the Chinese squid fleet?

The Chinese squid fleet stands as the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, responsible for capturing vast quantities of seafood each year, with a significant focus on squid. However, this expansive fleet is marred by labor trafficking, exploitative working conditions, and incidents of violence.

How many fishing ships does China have?

As of 2022, the fishing industry in China boasted a substantial fleet, with an estimated total of around 511,000 fishing vessels. Notably, both motorized and unmotorized vessels have seen gradual declines in their numbers in recent years.

Why does China fish so much?

Chinese fishers play a unique role as a "maritime militia," with the Chinese government openly recognizing its distant-water fishing vessels as "pseudo-military instruments." These fisherfolk undergo "basic military training" and are educated in safeguarding Chinese sovereignty. Armed fishing boats are frequently deployed to assert China’s presence and protect its interests in contested waters.

What happened to the Chinese fleet?

The Chinese Navy’s fleet, which was modernized during the 19th century, faced destruction during the first Sino-Japanese War. Chinese historians and military strategists have extracted valuable lessons from this historical event that hold significance in contemporary times. While visiting Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo, one cannot help but be impressed by its century-old dry-docks, which stand as a testament to history.

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