By Elizabeth Puranam
The fate of two foreign fishing crews taking refuge in New Zealand remains unknown tonight, as they wait for unpaid wages and an investigation by the Labour Department.
The crews left their ships in protest over inhuman conditions.
New research into the conditions on foreign vessels says workers are being treated like slaves in New Zealand waters.
There are 27 foreign charter vehicles operating here and researcher Glen Simmons says crews on many of them are abused.
“Absolutely appalling conditions – they’re a floating freezer,” he says.
“Many of these vessels amount to little more than slave ships.”
Mr Simmons and Christina Stringer started investigating conditions on foreign vessels after the South Korean Oyang 70 sank off New Zealand’s South Coast last August, killing six people.
Their research gained momentum this year when the crews of the Shin Ji and the new Oyang 75 walked off the ships in protest.
They have interviewed hundreds of workers and observers, who told them crew on foreign vessels are subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
“We had one instance where the entire crew were lined up and hit with a shovel,” Mr Simmons says.
The Shin Ji crew remain in Auckland, while the Oyang 75 crew are in Christchurch, waiting for a Department of Labour investigation.
“No timelines have been set as we’re still working through the terms of reference and panel membership,” says Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.
The workers are also owed thousands of dollars and are still waiting to be paid.
Ms Wilkinson is also the Immigration Minister and wouldn’t comment today about whether the crews would be deported.
But Ms Stringer and Mr Simmons say the crew’s wages must be paid and their safety assured before they can return to Indonesia.