Police find ‘abducted’ fisherman’s story smells fishy

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A Burmese fisherman was rescued from a Thai fishing boat after his girlfriend claimed he was abducted and forced to work against his will, but the boat’s captain said the crewman volunteered.

Identified only as Ray, the Myanmar national was pulled from the Por Charoenrat 4 after it was stopped by a Royal Thai Navy cutter April 30 between Koh Larn and Koh Phai.

The ship had been dispatched to intercept the Thai-owned fishing boat after Ray’s Burmese girlfriend, Dao from Mae Sot, filed a report with the Department of Social Development and Human Security saying her 30-year-old boyfriend was trafficked into the job and being held against his will.

Ray (left) is interviewed by Navy officers after being pulled off a local fishing boat.Ray (left) is interviewed by Navy officers after being pulled off a local fishing boat.

Human-trafficking in the fishing industry currently is a hot-button issue with Thailand, as it is fending off a potential ban on seafood imports by the European Union, and working to upgrade its standing on the U.S. State Department’s influential Trafficking in Persons annual report.

Navy officials rushed to find the boat and rescue Ray, but when the nine Burmese crew members were taken off at Pattaya’s Bali Hai Pier, the story they were told differed from Dao’s.

Captain Pibool Janpitikul, 59, told police Ray had joined his crew with several Burmese friends four days earlier. He affirmed that he volunteered to work on the boat.

In fact, the captain said, he advanced Ray 15,000 baht salary, two-thirds of which was sent to Dao in Mae Sot. The other 5,000 baht Ray spent on a mobile phone.

Authorities are investigating both sides of the story, while the other Burmese fishermen are being checked to see if they possess valid work and immigration documents.