Human Trafficking at Sea: A Global Problem 

Maritime trafficking is modern slavery at sea, a violation of the human dignity of laborers at all stages of the seafood supply chain and aquaculture industries. The virtually unregulated fishing industry in many countries, coupled with the global demand for cheap seafood, create the lawless conditions under which trafficking at sea flourishes. 

Maritime trafficking is found in the following processes: 

Fraudulent/Forced Recruitment:

  • Migrants are recruited into fishing crews by false promises of a living-wage, incurring crippling debts to obtain the job that becomes their trafficking situation. 
  • Many maritime trafficking brokers and recruiters hold legal permits as recruitment or manning agencies, showing the prevailing corruption in much of the industry.  
  • Facing a shortage of fishing crews, many trafficker-captains resort to kidnapping and enslaving fishers to work on their vessels.

Slavery in the High Seas

  • As fish species closer to land face depletion, vessels often remain in the high seas for years.  
Many enslaved fishers face the following abuses:
  • 18-20 hour work days, seven days a week
  • Operate dangerous machinery while intentionally deprived of sleep
  • Malnourishment and total disregard for basic medical needs/injuries 
  • Reckless exposure to extreme climactic conditions with no protective gear
  • The price of non-compliance can be brutal beatings, and often death

Slavery in the Processing Plants

  • Men, women, and children are often enslaved inthe seafood processing and canning facilities on land, preparing the harvested seafood for the export market.
These enslaved laborers live under:  
  • Constant abuse
  • Inhuman working hours
  • Total disregard for basic medical needs
  • Threats of harm/death

The Aim of COMPASS

Through a cooperative agreement with the Department of State, USCCB/MRS is implementing COMPASS to strengthen the coordination, collaboration, and capacity of the worldwide Catholic response to maritime trafficking, especially in its ministries at sea and ports.

COMPASS will seek to maximize Catholic and non-Catholic actors' effectiveness and consistency in the following action-oriented areas:  

  • Identifying, screening, and responding to victims of maritime trafficking globally
  • COMPASS will increase communication and collaboration among Catholic entities and other partners engaged in counter maritime trafficking activities.

To bring this about, COMPASS will meet the following objectives: 

  1. An Advisory Group composed of key international Catholic and non-Catholic leaders engaged in the fight against maritime trafficking will ensure a shared understanding of definitions and principles based on the United Nations' Palermo Protocol.
    This Advisory Group will:
    • Identify priorities for counter maritime trafficking activities among the Group members' constituencies
    • Share best practices that they have implemented in the course of their work
  2. The expertise of the Advisory Group will contribute to the creation of an e-Learning system that will include:
    • Training modules, which will have different tracks and will focus on a variety of issues related to maritime trafficking.
    • Technical assistance
    • Discussion fora
    • Practical tools and resources
    • Educational and awareness raising materials for download

  3. Create a global information system (GIS) that records in real time the range and diversity of the counter maritime labor trafficking activities of the Catholic Church and the Advisory Group partners.

Further Reading

To learn more about maritime trafficking, read the following resources: 

Global Supermarkets Selling Shrimp Peeled by Slaves

Caught at Sea: Forced Labour and Trafficking in Fisheries

Trafficking in Persons Report 2015

Mixed Maritime Movements in Southeast Asia

Picked Apart: The Hidden Struggle of Migrant Worker Women in the Maryland Crab Industry

The Global Forum on Migration and Development: Perspectives from Asia and the Pacific

'Sea Slaves': The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock

Tricked and Indebted on Land, Abused or Abandoned at Sea

Global Initiative on Protection at Sea

Forced Labor and Human Trafficking

How You Can Help

Help us in our fight against human trafficking by making a contribution.  If in New York, Florida, or the District of Columbia, donate online. If you are in another state, please go to the Catholic Fund against Human Trafficking.