#Fishing - Marine Minister Simon Coveney has said he is "very concerned" about revelations in the Guardian regarding widespread exploitation of migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry.
The minister released a short statement last night (Monday 2 November) just hours after the newspaper published its exposé of trafficked labour on trawlers throughout Ireland's fishing fleet.
The year-long undercover investigation by a team of Guardian journalists found evidence of undocumented labour on prawn and whitefish boats working from Ireland's biggest fishery harbours.
First-hand accounts from a number of these migrant fishermen – mainly from Ghana, the Philippines, Egypt and India – describe a "catalogue of abuses", including overwork, sleep deprivation, lack of safety training, withheld wages far below the Irish minimum, and being confined to their vessels when in port.
Sleep deprivation in particular has been linked to the Tit Bonhomme tragedy in January 2012, which took the lives of five of its six crew - two Irish, including the skipper, and four Egyptian, one of them the lone survivor.
Earlier this year the families of two of the deceased Egyptian fishermen reaches a settlement in the High Court over the incident – which the Guardian says was exacerbated by the absence of mandatory emergency drills in the months before, and the lack of enough lifesaving gear on board for the whole crew.
Lax safety protocols have also been claimed in the death of Filipino fisherman Joel Alama, who was overcome by fumes while attempting to rescue Irish colleague James Joyce, who also died, from their trawler's hold in Killybegs this past August.
What's more, it's believed that a number of migrant workers have been trafficked into working on boats in Ireland.
One Filipino fisherman claims he was contracted via an agency to work on a boat sailing from Belfast to Morocco, but on arrival was driven across Ireland to Crosshaven to fish in Irish waters without the necessary permits.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland this morning, one of the reporters on the story, food and farming journalist Ella McSweeney, spoke of exploitation of migrant labour being an "open secret" in the Irish fishing fleet.
She said this makes it doubly difficult for "good Irish trawler owners" to compete with boats that work illegally, not only by exploiting undocumented crew but also misreporting their logs and fishing beyond their grounds, among other shortcuts.
McSweeney added that the courts in Ireland have been "too lenient" in cases where exploitation has already come to light, and that the laws to prevent the situation are already there but are "not being enforced".
Morning Ireland also spoke to Grainne O'Toole of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, who called on the Government to introduce visa regularisation for trafficked workers "and ensure they they are able to reclaim the wages owed to them".
Dismissing criticisms that the State has been "turning a blind eye" to widespread abuses in the fishing fleet, Minister Coveney – who only last July welcomed a report on improving safety and welfare standards in the fishing industry – said the Department of Justice has confirmed a project, led by the Garda, "specifically to address concerns in relation to human trafficking in the maritime sector".
This project "aims to provide a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach the issue, involving a broad range of competent State agencies ... and civil society organisations."
The Guardian has much more on the story HERE.