SAN FRANCISCO—Two Indonesian fishermen filed a lawsuit on Thursday, September 22 alleging they were held captive aboard a Honolulu-based fishing vessel and fled while it was docked along Fisherman’s Wharf.
Abdul Fatah and Abdul Sorihin filed a human labor trafficking lawsuit in San Francisco’s U.S. District Court against Thoai Van Nguyen—owner and captain of Sea Queen II.
The lawsuit alleges that Nguyen, a San Jose resident, forced crew members to work up to 20-hour shifts, denied them medical treatment and demanded they reimburse him the $6,000 he spent to bring them there if they wanted to leave before their contracts expired.
The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for the debts the men incurred, fees they payed and unspecified damages for “mental anguish and pain.”
“We hope that they really get a chance to air the injustices that they experienced and have access to some meaningful recourse for what happened to them,” said Mana Barari, an attorney with Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center in San Francisco in a statement.
Fatah and Sorihin indicated that in 2009 they signed contracts promising $350 a month plus bonuses to work aboard Sea Queen II and arrived in Honolulu after a 12,500-mile trip.
The lawsuit further claims the captain—Nguyen—was verbally abusive, denied crew members medical services and forced them to work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. without a food break. He would then force them to continue to fish, after a meal and few hours’ rest.
“I want to be compensated because of the suffering I felt on the boat and all the suffering I have endured after I got off the boat,” Sorihin said Thursday through a translator at his lawyer’s San Francisco office. “And I hope no one will suffer what I have suffered.”
The lawsuit comes just 2 weeks after an Associated Press investigation unveiled that approximately 140 fishing boats based in Honolulu (including Sea Queen II) were crewed by hundreds of men from impoverished Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations.
The AP found that some men are paid as little as 70 cents an hour, were forced to use buckets rather than toilets, suffered running sores from beg bugs and lacked sufficient food.
In response to the AP’s report, the Hawaii Longline Association representing fishing boat owners created a universal crew contract that will be required on any boat wanting to sell fish in the state’s seafood auction; it’s expected to be implemented October 1 and is aimed to detest human trafficking and protects workers.