Fijian Ship Owned by Chinese National Blocked From U.S. Over Accusations Crew Is Enslaved

A Fijian ship owned by a Chinese national was blocked from the U.S. over accusations that the crew aboard the ship is enslaved.

The ship was blocked Wednesday in an attempted effort to keep goods produced with forced labor from entering the U.S.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued an order to stop shipments in American ports from the Hangton No. 112 once the agency found credible evidence for the claims.

"Foreign fishing vessels like the Hangton No. 112 continue to lure vulnerable migrant workers into forced labor situations so that they can sell seafood below market value, which threatens the livelihoods of American fishermen. CBP will continue to stand up against these vessels' abusive labor practices by preventing the introduction of their unethically harvested seafood into the U.S. market," said CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller in a statement released ahead of the announcement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Ship Blocked from U.S. for Enslaved Crew
The U.S. blocked a Fijian ship owned by a Chinese national Wednesday when they found credible evidence that the crew aboard the ship is enslaved. Buyers check tuna fish during a new year's first auction at the Tsukiji fish wholesale market on January 5, 2006 in Tokyo, Japan. Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

It's the latest in a series of such orders targeting Asian fishing vessels amid reports that crews made up largely of vulnerable migrant workers from poorer countries are subjected to horrific conditions by operators traveling farther at sea and for longer periods as fish populations decline worldwide.

CBP said its investigation found evidence that the crew of the Hangton 112 had wages improperly withheld from them, their identity documents were taken and they were kept in "debt bondage," which typically involves charging workers an excessive amount in advance for travel and other expenses and holding them until they worked to pay if off.

In May, the U.S. blocked imports of seafood from the entire fleet of a Chinese company that authorities say forced crew members to work in slave-like conditions that led to the deaths of several Indonesian fishermen last year. CBP has also issued orders against individual vessels from Taiwan and elsewhere.

The 102-foot (34-meter) vessel operates with a crew of about a dozen, according to online records. The boat was cited in a December 2019 investigative report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union that documented abusive conditions in the Pacific fishing fleet. The operator denied the allegations at the time.

Advocates such as Greenpeace say migrant workers, often from the Philippines and Indonesia, are particularly vulnerable to abusive labor conditions, with brokers often taking a cut of their wages and ship operators and companies forcing them to work extreme hours and endure brutal treatment, in one of the most dangerous occupations, with no recourse and no way to escape while at sea.

In recent years, the issue of unregulated fishing has gained increased attention not just for the abusive treatment of workers but also the damage it does to the environment, economies around the world and food supply.

Ship Blocked from U.S. for Enslaved Crew
In this March 23, 2016 file photo, tuna caught by foreign fishermen aboard American boats are lined up at the Honolulu Fish Auction at Pier 38 in Honolulu. A tuna fishing boat based in the Pacific island nation of Fiji that has been accused of essentially enslaving its crew was blocked Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, from importing seafood in the United States, part of an increasing effort to keep goods produced with forced labor from entering the country. Caleb Jones/Associated Press