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Indonesia opens trials of 8 accused of enslaving fishermen

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Burmese fishermen raised their hands as they were asked who among them wanted to go home

TUAL, Indonesia » An Indonesian court opened the trials Monday of three Indonesians and five Thais charged with human trafficking connected with slavery in the seafood industry.

The suspects were arrested in the remote island village of Benjina in May after the slavery was revealed by The Associated Press in a report two months earlier.

The defendants were being tried separately in Tual, a municipality in southeastern Maluku province, about 1,800 miles east of the capital, Jakarta.

Youngyut Nitiwongchaeron, a 53-year-old Thai captain, was the first to go on trial.

The three Indonesian and five Thai boat captains are employees at Pusaka Benjina Resources, one of the largest fishing firms in eastern Indonesia.

They are accused of locking up fishermen for one to six months in a prison-like cell located in the company’s compound in Benjina.

If found guilty they could face jail sentences of up to 15 years and fines as high as $46,000.

An investigation by Indonesian police found that hundreds of foreign fishermen were recruited in Thailand and brought to Indonesia using fake immigration papers and seamen books and were subjected to brutal labor abuses.

At least five fishing boats allegedly used by the suspects for human trafficking and slavery-like practices were confiscated, along with dozens of fake passports and seamen books.

More than 2,000 men from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have been rescued and sent home this year from brutal conditions at sea, liberated as a result of an Associated Press investigation into seafood brought to the U.S. from the slave island. Some had been held captive more than a decade after being trafficked onto Thai trawlers.

Also, a multi-million dollar Thai-Indonesian fishing business has been shut down.

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