Ghanaian workers have reported human rights abuses on Chinese-owned trawlers.
They alleged constant beatings and denial of water or basic medicines and claimed the abuse was done amidst threats and bribing of fisheries observers.
This was contained in a new report and film released by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working to protect the environment.
The incident of human rights abuses of the local crew on-board Chinese-operated trawlers, which are ubiquitous along the West African coast, is deeply troubling, the report said.
It said although it was against Ghanaian laws, an estimated 90 per cent of the trawlers operating in Ghana were owned by Chinese corporations that use Ghanaian ‘front companies’ to access registration.
It said Chinese nationals occupied the senior positions on-board the vessels, with Ghanaian crew in lower roles.
According to the report, abuse of the crew was matched by aggression towards fisheries observers, in a bid to silence them and prevent reporting of widespread illegal fishing.
It said so far, three observers interviewed by EJF reported incidents such as a captain threatening to hit an observer with a metal bar when he was found gathering evidence of illegal fishing.
It added that in another case, a captain threatened an observer with a knife when he tried to prevent juvenile fish from being dumped at sea.
All the crew and observers EJF interviewed stated that the vessels they worked on engaged in illegal fishing practices.
In addition to the appalling conditions reported on board, none of the crew members interviewed had entered into written contracts, and some said they were not told their wages at all or were given a fixed sum regardless of how long the trip took, the report said.
Companies also made deductions from wages that were not agreed to in advance.
“There is currently no union in place to protect the interests of crew members working on-board industrial trawlers. Some crew members believe there is active suppression of such access to collective bargaining, and say they were fired or blacklisted following their move to form a union,” the report said.
The report said it was imperative that businesses, including seafood importers in the EU and other major markets, immediately scrutinise their supply chains.
It called on stakeholders to ensure the vessels implemented effective due diligence and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to human rights abuses under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Mr Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, said the Ghanaian government could not ignore the abuse of its people and urged it to immediately launch an official and independent investigation into the allegations in the report and take the necessary actions.
He urged the Fisheries Commission to fully investigate ownership before licensing vessels, and ensure licenses of vessels with poor human rights and illegal fishing records, or where the beneficial owner was not Ghanaian were withheld or withdrawn.
“Ghanaian workers are suffering because Ghana’s fisheries are out of control, with no effective crackdown on the abuse of crew or the rampant illegal fishing, and no transparent process to secure prosecutions, convictions and impose meaningful deterrent sanctions,” he stressed.