The Seafaring Warriors
THE fate of Indonesian crewmen aboard a Chinese fishing vessel in May that went viral in South Korea has been a hot topic in the country.
The complaints presented: fish bait used as a side dish, working hours with minimum breaks, low salaries and a dead body thrown into the sea. If what happens indeed involves exploitation, slavery or atrocities, and violations of human rights, the Indonesian government should take stern action to protect its citizens. The agent sending the workers concerned should also be firmly dealt with so that the same thing will not recur. Moreover, crewmen of Indonesian origin are today mostly employed by international ocean-going fishing fleets because of their comparatively high seafaring ethos.
However, on the other side, care should be taken in examining the problem. It may be that the working order needed is in fact ‘uncommon’. Soldiers in battlefields or medical personnel in facing disaster crisis frequently encounter abnormal conditions. Working hours are uncertain, food consumption and facilities are in an emergency state and so forth. The fishing profession in the ocean actually does not seem normal compared with the working conditions on land.
For instance, the ocean fishing activity in the case described above is likely to apply tuna long-lines as their device because of the use of fish bait. This device is a main line with floats, extended to the length of around 100 kilometers, with hook-tipped line branches carrying a total of 1,500-2,000 hook eyes. Each hook eye is baited with milkfish, horse mackerels, lemuru (Sardinella longiceps) or jellyfish. If the Chinese vessel crewmen complaint about their fish-bait side dish—milkfish, lemuru, horse mackerels or jellyfish—it does not seem too bad and can be understood.
They are fishing by means of long-lines in the ocean. The distance from the fishery port where the vessel starts to the fishing ground takes one to two weeks to cover. The return journey with their fish catch takes the same duration. Their days of operation last for about one to two months. While sailing to the fishing ground or returning to the port, the crewmembers have no activity most of the time. But during their fishing operation, their operational hours are adjusted to the time needed by the long-lines to haul maximum fish catch, lasting for quite a long while, about 16 hours.
The series of hooks with fish bait are released into the sea, which is called setting, usually taking place from 3am to around 9am. About midday at 1pm the hook lines are drawn to the deck and crewmen are detaching the fish already caught. This hauling can come to an end by midnight. The reality of this working condition may be tolerated with the excuse that during the journey to the fishing ground and back, the crewmembers on board are ‘idling’ without much activity.
Regarding the very low salaries received, it may be due to the salary payment system, which for some reasons does not pay monthly salaries in full, but will be made in full after returning to the base port where fish catch is unloaded in the company’s location.
Lastly, the problem of the sailor who died and his body was ‘thrown’ into or floated on the sea, is likely to be understandable, as indicated by the ILO (International Labor Organization) in the case of the death of a crewmember at sea while the ship has no corpse preservation facilities. This is even more the case if the vessel is positioned in the fishing ground that takes several days to return to the port. Yet it would be better to float the corpse according to a custom or ritual compatible with the faith of the deceased.
The above description is just the other side for consideration of the reality of seafaring warriors’ profession, so that in examining the controversy over the Indonesian crewmen aboard the Chinese vessel, misunderstanding can be avoided. Still, if what really happens is exploitation or inhuman oppression, we certainly should feel deeply concerned and stern action should be taken.
Soen’an Hadi Poernomo
Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta
Suggestion for Jakarta Government
I HAVE read an article of Tempo of the March 3-9, 2020 edition of City of Flood, which described the report of Jakarta Governor Anies on the floods in the capital city as disorderly and messed up. It is written on page 6: “There must be many flood experts in Jakarta and they certainly have solutions to deal with the problem.” Jakarta is very vast, covering Central, West, South, East and North Jakarta. Each region is headed by a mayor.
I have also read an article on page 60 of Tempo’s February 25-March 2, 2020 issue on Surabaya city in East Java, which has for 55 years been led by seven mayors, from Sukoco to today’s Tri Rismaharini. Sukoco requested an expert to design Surabaya.
According to someone who has visited the office of Mayor Risma, many closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are installed to monitor all events in the territory of Surabaya. If anything needs to be put in order, the mayor goes to the place to take necessary action. Now Surabaya still faces floods but not as grave as the condition in Jakarta.
How about the mayors in Jakarta contributing their energy and thoughts to their respective regions? In this manner, problem solving can be easier due to their smaller areas. Hopefully there will be no more criticism of disorderliness and messing up directed at Jakarta.
South Tangerang, Banten
IN the Interlude section of the May 19-25, 2020 edition, in the articles titled 1918-1919: Spreading Like Brush Fire and After the Pandemic: The New Normal, the name of the resource person is written as Tubagus Arie Rukmana. It should have been Tubagus Arie Rukmantara. We apologize for the mistake—Ed.