Ship boat

Indonesian sailors stranded on ship in Kaohsiung since February

by Brian Hioe

PPhoto Credit: Fcuk1203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

EIGHT INDONESIAN the sailors were stranded on a ship since February in the port of Kaohsiung. The eight sailors were not allowed to enter Taiwan due to COVID-19 measures and have not received a salary for more than six months.

The eight sailors work on a freighter registered in Togo, operated by a Hong Kong company. The ship was towed to Kaohsiung Port after losing power on Feb. 23 near Taiwan.

In particular, the eight men cannot enter Taiwan due to border regulations and COVID-19 measures and have more or less been abandoned by their employers, having not been paid for six months. While the Taiwanese government did not allow them entry, government offices and a local priest from the Stella Maris organization sought to provide the sailors with food and supplies. To that extent, it is noted that after being in Taiwan for more than six months, it would be unlikely that any of the sailors would still have COVID-19.

Taiwan has unusual cases in which foreigners were physically present in Taiwan but were not allowed entry. In 2019, two Chinese asylum seekers stayed more than 100 days at Taoyuan International Airport before being allowed to enter Taiwan. The Taiwanese government refused to let them in, despite both having a history of activism that others could attest to.

The two stayed in an airport lounge, fearing they would be imprisoned or worse if they were to return to Taiwan. There have been cases of Chinese citizens who were refused entry, were turned away and disappeared if forced to return to China.

Photo credit: public domain

This is not even the only case in recent memory involving Indonesian sailors who were unable to enter Taiwan due to border restrictions and regulations. last august, 105 Indonesian sailors have flown home after being stranded at sea for nearly six months.

The sailors were unable to enter Taiwan due to border restrictions that prevent merchant ships registered in another country from docking in Taiwan, only allowing ships owned by Taiwanese nationals and registered in Taiwan to dock. Similarly, maritime conventions stipulate that it is the responsibility of the owner of a ship, the nation with which the ship is registered and the nation of origin of the seafarers to provide for repatriations.

Because of this legal bond, the sailors were unable to return home for over a year, having already been at sea for some time before ending up in Taiwan. It is likely that there are other cases of migrant workers at sea prevented from entering Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic, caught in the tricky legal trap of not being able to enter Taiwan but having nowhere to go. go.

Yet the issue is not, in fact, exclusive to Taiwan. The phenomenon of sailors stranded on ships for months, even years at a time is known as seafarer abandonment.

In 2021, sailors on board a Taiwanese-operated container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal ran aground aboard its ship in the same way. Before the 105 Indonesian sailors repatriated in 2021, Taiwan has recorded six cases of seafarers being abandoned since 2016. Four were eventually resolved, but as of August 2021, a Belize-registered freighter has been stuck in Taipei Port since October 2019, and a Sierra Leone-registered freighter has been stuck in Changhua County since December 2019. The Seafarer Phenomenon abandonment is relatively unknown, whether in Taiwan or other parts of the world.

Either way, the abandonment of seafarers goes hand in hand with the poor treatment of migrant workers in Taiwan, especially people working on the high seas such as migrant fishermen. their workers and migrant workers themselves often lack cellphone signal to report abuse. Even if they were able to, they could face physical, even fatal, retaliation from boat captains.

Defenders of the eight stranded Indonesian sailors have called for their help and for steps to be taken for their repatriation. Without the corresponding public outrage, this is unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, ultimately, the incident points to a larger systematic problem.