Authorities in Indonesia recovered a corpse and detained two Chinese fishing boats after receiving a tip that the body of an Indonesian sailor had been kept onboard for about a week, police said Thursday.
The sailor's death marked the latest case of an Indonesian who died while working aboard a China-flagged boat. At least eight deaths of Indonesians have been reported in various incidents on Chinese fishing boats since November 2019, with crew members complaining that they were subjected to harsh working conditions.
The boats involved in the latest case were sailing off Nipa Island near Singapore when they were stopped and their crews detained by Indonesian Coast Guard ships on Wednesday, Riau Islands provincial police spokesman Harry Goldenhardt said. The boats had 32 crew members, including 10 Indonesians.
"We received information that an Indonesian migrant worker died on one of the boats and the body had been kept in cold storage for about a week," Goldenhardt told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
"We chased the boats and forced them to dock at the naval base," he said, adding that the Indonesian's corpse had been taken to a hospital for an autopsy.
The dead sailor was identified as Alfriandi, 20, a resident of Lampung province on Sumatra Island, said Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, coordinator of Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, an NGO.
Previously, DFW and Indonesian authorities had expressed concern about the deaths of seven Indonesians linked to Chinese fishing boats since last November. The corpses of some of those died were thrown overboard.
On Thursday, Arie Dharmanto, director of general crimes at the Riau provincial police, said investigators had detained the Lu Huang Yuan Yu 117 and the Lu Huang Yuan Yu 118 boats and their crews, pending a probe into Alfriandi's death.
"The victim's body was found on the 117. We are still questioning the crew members and delving into the case," Arie told BenarNews.
Suhufan said an Indonesian working aboard the Lu Huang Yuan Yu 118 had called DFW's 24-hour hotline to report the death of a compatriot who allegedly had been physically abused by the boat's captain. DFW passed the tip to a team of police, naval and coast guard personnel.
"Apparently the body was moved from one ship to the other, which is owned by the same company," Suhufan told BenarNews on Thursday.
The Chinese embassy in Jakarta did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BenarNews.
On June 11, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi urged the Chinese government to conduct "transparent and fair" investigations into the deaths of Indonesian crew members who were allegedly subjected to harsh treatment akin to forced labor.
One month earlier, she had condemned the alleged mistreatment of the Indonesian sailors and summoned China's ambassador to Jakarta to respond to her concerns. She asked the Chinese ambassador to explain why sailors' corpses had been thrown overboard.
"The government has a strong commitment to resolve this case thoroughly," she said on May 10, adding that Indonesia and China would set up a joint investigation into the allegations of abuse.
Retno was reacting to a South Korean media report showing an Indonesian crew member who said three bodies were thrown into the sea between December 2019 and March. The report alleged that Indonesian crew members were sometimes forced to work 30 straight hours while standing and were given only six hours to eat and sleep before resuming their duties.
More recently, two Indonesian sailors jumped from a Chinese-flagged fishing boat as it sailed in the Malacca Strait on June 5, according to officials. They were rescued off Karimun, an island in the Riau Islands, and taken there the next day after drifting for seven hours in the sea.
Suhufan said the men were verbally and physically abused and forced to work long hours.
Alleged human trafficking
DFW's Suhufan urged authorities to investigate suspected human trafficking involving PT Mandiri Tunggal Bahari (MTB), a company based in the Central Java regency of Tegal that recruited Indonesians to work on Chinese fishing boats, including those detained on Wednesday.
"Apparently they advertised jobs on Facebook to attract sailors from outside Tegal and Central Java," Suhufan told BenarNews.
He said four of the 27 Indonesian sailors who were recruited by MTB to a number of Chinese-flagged fishing vessels had died, while two were missing. The others have returned safely to Indonesia safely.
Central Java police spokesman Iskandar Fitriana Sutisna said two top executives at MTB had been formally charged with human trafficking and would stand trial.
"Their files have been submitted to the prosecutor's office. Just wait for the next process," Iskandar told BenarNews on Thursday.
In addition, investigators have named nine people as suspects in the case, including one who worked as a recruiter for MTB, according to Arie of the Riau Islands police. He said investigators are trying to track down a Singapore citizen who is suspected of being a broker as well.
Indonesian police previously reported arresting five people from four local labor agencies in connection with previous cases.
BenarNews was unable to contact MTB for comment on Thursday.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
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