The Koreas | Society | East Asia

Korean Media Report Sparks Outcry Over Abuse of Indonesian Crew Members on Chinese Fishing Ships

MBC’s shocking report on inhumane working conditions sparked international outrage.

Jenna Gibson
Korean Media Report Sparks Outcry Over Abuse of Indonesian Crew Members on Chinese Fishing Ships
Credit: Screenshot/ MBC News

Indonesians are sending thanks to a South Korean media channel after the station published an in-depth investigation earlier this month into the deaths of several Indonesian crew members aboard a Chinese fishing boat.

On May 5, Korean broadcaster MBC published a report alleging abuse aboard fishing ships owned by Chinese company Dalian Ocean Fishing, Co. The report included video footage secretly taken by Indonesian workers showing crew members throwing the body of a deceased Indonesian man overboard.

Three Indonesian crew members were thrown overboard after dying at sea, and another died after arriving in South Korea, according to lawyer Jong-chul Kim, of the refugee and trafficking-focused organization Advocates for Public Interest Law (Apil), who interviewed the Indonesian crew members while they were in mandatory 14-day quarantine in South Korea.  The men who died all showed similar symptoms, some for more than a month before their deaths, but were not taken to a hospital, Kim told the South China Morning Post.

Almost all of the living crew members have since been repatriated home to Indonesia.

The crew alerted South Korean authorities and MBC to the abuse after they landed in Busan in late April. After MBC’s report, the news began to spread in South Korea. In addition to being posted on MBC’s own site, the broadcaster also uploaded the video on YouTube with Chinese and Bahasa Indonesia subtitles, where it has racked up more than 7.1 million views and 62,000 comments in a variety of languages.

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But the story really took off after YouTuber Jang Hansol of Korea Reomit posted a video translating and explaining the MBC report in Bahasa Indonesia. His video, which has more than 7.4 million views, introduced the issue to the Indonesian public and drew greater attention and pressure for an official response to the incidents. In fact, many of the comments on MBC’s video specifically mentioned that they were alerted to the issue because they saw it on Korea Reomit.

MBC received so many supportive comments and questions from Indonesian netizens that the journalist who reported the original story, Go Eun-Sang, posted a video answering questions from curious Indonesian commenters about the video and his reporting process.

Amid this outpouring of attention, on May 10, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi officially addressed the issue, condemning the “inhuman” conditions aboard the vessels as well as the burials at sea of the three crew members who had died. She also said that the Indonesian and Chinese governments would be setting up a joint investigation into the company allegedly responsible for these abuses.

In addition to investigating this specific incident and making sure these crew members receive justice, supporters have also called for all parties involved — China, Indonesia, and South Korea, to prevent future tragedies by putting into force stricter national and international protections for workers, including fishermen. In particular, greater protections for those in the fishing industry are included in the International Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention, which has not been ratified by any of these three countries.