Fearing death, Burmese fishing ‘slaves’ jump overboard in Rayong

Friday, 11 July 2014 From Issue Vol. XXII No. 28 By  Patcharapol Panrak

Two Burmese fishermen who claimed they were enslaved on Thai fishing boats were pulled from Rayong Bay by navy rescuers after jumping overboard to escape what they claimed was certain death.

Identified only as Khanai, 20, and Sew, 26, the Myanmar natives were given food and water aboard the HTMS Su Pharin following their June 23 rescue. They were then treated at Queen Sirikit Naval Medical Center.

Khanai and Sew disembark from the HTMS Prabparapak, tied up alongside the HTMS Su Pharin after the latter pulled them from the sea.Khanai and Sew disembark from the HTMS Prabparapak, tied up alongside the HTMS Su Pharin after the latter pulled them from the sea.

The navy said it found the sailors floating in a shipping lane off the Maptaput Industrial Estate about two hours after the castaways were reported.

The two men told navy officials they had jumped overboard the night before carrying a bag of clothes and cash. They said they had been worked like slaves on a Thai-owned fishing boat and felt they would have either been killed or died working.

The rescue comes amid a United States decision to downgrade Thailand’s standing on the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The kingdom was listed on Tier II in the 2013, but was dropped to Tier III last month.

Doing so triggered U.S. sanctions that include the withholding or withdrawal of U.S. non-humanitarian and non-trade-related assistance. It would also mean that Thailand faces U.S. opposition to assistance from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Many Thai government and industry officials, however, claim there are no trafficked foreigners in the fishing sector and that U.S. claims are exaggerated.

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