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Home / Rising from a Set of Bad Experiences, Arnon Invites AKPs to Form a Union to Protect Their Rights on Fishing Vessels

Rising from a Set of Bad Experiences, Arnon Invites AKPs to Form a Union to Protect Their Rights on Fishing Vessels

Working on a Fishing Vessel as a Boat Crew (AKP) is not an easy job. This job is full of challenges and requires a lot of energy and boldness. Consequently, AKPs must have an excellent mentality and physicality, considering that they have to work for days or even months, crossing the ocean to sail. 

At the same time, the company’s ambition (manning agency) to make a lot of money may ignore the rights of the AKPs who work on the ship.  The practice continues until today, even when manning companies are obligated to fulfill the crew’s rights.  As a consequence, only a handful of people are interested to become AKP.

One of them is Arnon Hiborang, a 38-year-old who had experienced bitterness as an AKP while working on a foreign fishing vessel. Hand-to-mouth family life made Arnon leave his school and start going to sail to earn money.  When he was a teenager, in 2000, Arnon began to work as an AKP on a Taiwanese fishing vessel. The vessel’s office was located in Bitung City, North Sulawesi. Its operation was in the Arafura Sea area between Papua Island and the Australian continent.

While working on the Taiwanese vessel, Arnon was not well-treated.  He could recount a lot of inhumane treatments on the ship.  Many problems occurred, and the vessel denied many of the AKPs’ rights.  Many of the crews were denied the rights to insurance, given substandard salaries, or experienced physical violence.

Due to the inhumane treatment, several AKPs tried to fight back. Fights with the ship’s captain were inevitable, and several AKPs even got murdered on the ship.

Apart from that, Arnon and his colleagues also experienced language problems on the ship. Working on foreign fishing vessels meant that there would be AKPs from different countries who spoke other languages.  At the Taiwanese boat, Arnon met several AKPs from China and Taiwan.  Due to the difference in languages, sometimes misunderstandings occurred until there was a brawl on the ship.  The other times, problems could happen due to differences in preference of food. According to Arnon, because the chef was Taiwanese, Arnon and his fellow Indonesians sometimes couldn’t enjoy the food. However, they tried to adapt by talking to the cook, and they also helped make Indonesian dishes.

In 2002, Arnon decided to go to the Philippines and work on a Philippine fishing vessel.  On the new vessel, Arnon faced similar treatments. The boat that traveled to New Zealand waters to catch sharks normally operated for 21 months and never landed.  After 21 months had passed, a new ship would enter the territory of Taiwan, and the AKP from Indonesia could return to their country.

For 21 months, Arnon felt deep sorrow as he missed his family, children, and parents. Especially when he was sick on the sea, he missed home and kept thinking about going back. However, it was not possible, and it deepened his sorrow.

According to Arnon, if an AKP has a mild fever on the vessel, they would not be allowed to rest. The AKP must continue to work because the captain didn’t believe in their condition.  The captain would only allow the AKP to rest when severely injured or had a high fever. Arnon said that there were times when he was sick and could not do anything but sleep. Yet, even as he was sick, Arnon had to attend to his own needs, because fellow crew members were busy with their jobs.

From the myriad of bad experiences, Arnon promised that he wouldn’t let his children to follow his path. “I don’t want my children to work on fishing vessel. I don’t want them to leave the land, even though they will work as shop assistants, it’s better, as long as they don’t work on the ship,” Arnon said.

One thing to note, Arnon and other AKPs didn’t know where to turn to while working on foreign vessels. However, Arnon felt relief when he was introduced to Yayasan Plan International Indonesia (Plan Indonesia).

Plan Indonesia entered the North Sulawesi area through the SAFE Seas Project around 2019. At that time, Arnon acted as the AKP representative at a meeting held by the SAFE Seas Project at a hotel in Manado.  He said he was very grateful for the SAFE Seas Project and Plan Indonesia programs, which are helpful for AKPs, both from within and outside the country.

From the meeting held by the SAFE Seas Project, Arnon received information and direction from the SAFE Seas Project. He began to understand more about the AKPs’ rights and knew where to complain if there was a problem at sea.  During the meeting, Plan Indonesia also encouraged AKPs in North Sulawesi to create an alliance of AKPs. From there, Arnon invited his fellow AKPs to organize or form a union. That was how the Serikat Anak Kapal Perikanan Bersatu Sulawesi Utara was formed. In this union, Arnon was appointed the chairman.

Arnon believes that this union would be a platform to assist the AKPs whenever they face problems and need protection. “With the formation of this union, I believe that the unity and cohesiveness of fellow AKPs will significantly increase, making it easier for them to fight for their rights. This alliance could also encourage the government to form regulations that pay more attention to conditions and protect their rights,” he added.

Up until now, Arnon has been actively educating AKPs who will work on any fishing vessels, especially foreign vessels. He is also actively asking them to understand the contents of the Sea Work Agreement (PKL) well to avoid forced labor on fishing vessels. Together with the crew union, Arnon collaborates with Plan Indonesia (through the SAFE Seas Project) to tackle the problems faced by the AKPs on the sea. They also facilitate all AKPs to solve other issues that AKPs may experience in North Sulawesi.

Written By: Eko Prasetyo

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