The ugly truth about modern-da

The ugly truth about modern-day slavery…in Cape Town Harbour

Five years, three years: that is how long they lived on the seas unable to flee, without pay, in hellish conditions. With the capture of 75 ‘slave’ fisherman off the coast of South Africa, how long will it be before the world can agree to tighten inspection of oceangoing craft?

The ugly truth about modern-da


The 2010s has been a strangely anachronistic decade, by the sorts of crime we have returned to: terrorist bombs in public places were a stapled of news reports in the 1910s, when the Anarchist cause sowed fear in European capitals. Pirates – and not as in ‘Arrgh’ – are once again a real and deep fear for merchant navies crossing the wilder straits off Somalia. And slavery – not low-paid work, or drudgery, but the actual control of human beings who work without pay – is right back up there as an immediate threat to human dignity. And that is how slaves, who last walked South Africa’s towns on the right side of the law in the 1830s, have been found off the Western Cape coast by authorities this week.

South African maritime authorities apprehended ten fishing vessels after a routine inspection found inhumane and filthy conditions on board, and most of the crew in desperate condition.

But, according to Ceba Mtoba, chief director of control and surveillance at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, that was not all. Many of the crew were effectively kidnapped and being held as slave labour; some had gone between three and five years without pay.

The Cape Times‘ veteran environmental writer Melanie Gosling reported today that three vessels were initially apprehended off the Camps Bay coast by the Victoria Mxenge patrol vessel; after an investigation, another seven vessels belonging to the same owner were apprehended in Cape Town harbour.

All had fake registration documents, and their 75 crew worked, ate and slept in indescribable squalor on the cramped vessels. Two vessels belonging to the owner are believed to have been lost at sea, as well as, allegedly, two crew members who died in unknown circumstances.

While authorities tried to contact their Indonesian and Taiwanese counterparts to take further steps, two of the fishing vessels – crews had been maintained on the vessels for reasons of safety – escaped from Cape Town harbour, where security is not what it used to be. The South African Home Affairs has not yet given comment on the future of the ‘slaves’, but with human trafficking a lucrative and growing industry across the world’s seaways, it is surely time that such searches become routine and that specific protocols be developed to deal with this problem.

This map made by the Washington Post shows the percentage of the world's population that is enslaved in 2013
This map made by the Washington Post shows the percentage of the world’s population that is enslaved in 2013

Read more: 

SA diplomat kept domestic worker as ‘serf’ in Ireland

Decriminalisation of prostitution could reduce HIV

South African official mistreats domestic worker in London