Indonesian fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters she had reopened an investigation into PT Pusaka Benjina Resources.
The company’s licenses were revoked after the Associated Press exposed slavery and human trafficking in its operations in eastern Indonesia last year.
Pudjiastuti said she had received a report that the company had been buying fish from local fishermen for almost a month and processing them in its factory on Benjina Island north of Australia.
The Indonesian fisheries ministry has reopened a probe into Pusaka Benjina Resources, a company at the center of last year’s slavery and human trafficking scandal that is thought to have illegally resumed operations despite having its permits revoked.
The firm has been processing fish at its factory in eastern Indonesia for nearly a month, fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters in Jakarta on Friday. Its boats remain inactive, with the fish purchased from local fishermen, she added.
“If we let this go on, it means we give slavery our blessing,” Pudjiastuti said. The ministry has issued an investigation warrant and intends to put a stop to the company’s activities, she added.
Pusaka Benjina caught the limelight in 2015 after the Associated Press exposed forced labor and brutal conditions in its operations on and around the island of Benjina, in the Arafura Sea north of Australia. The news agency found trafficked Burmese men locked in cages in the company’s island compound, apparently to keep them from running away. Slaves interviewed by the AP said they had been whipped with toxic stingray tails or beaten if they complained or tried to rest. The seafood they caught was traced to supermarkets in the U.S. and Europe.
Indonesian authorities subsequently freed and repatriated thousands of trafficked men, mainly to Myanmar and Cambodia. Three Indonesians and five Thai boat captains employed by Pusaka Benjina were sentenced to three years imprisonment for violating Indonesia’s anti-human trafficking law, and the company lost its licenses to operate. Other companies were penalized as well.
Mas Achmad Santosa, head of the fisheries ministry’s anti-illegal fishing task force, said he was “shocked and upset” by the reports of Pusaka Benjina’s renewed activity but would wait for more information to comment further.
The Indonesian investigative magazine Tempo has reported that Pusaka Benjina is controlled by businessman Tex Suryawijaya, one of the “four kings” of fishing in the Arafura Sea, although Suryawijaya maintains he sold the company five years ago.
M Ambari. “PBR Benjina Beroperasi Lagi, Benarkah Ada Oknum KKP Tidak Beres?” Mongabay-Indonesia. 27 September 2016.