Captain of Suspected Slave Fish Boat Silver Sea 2 Held in Indonesia

Silver Sea 2 was seized by Indonesian authorities following allegations of illegal fishing and human trafficking.Heri Juanda / AP

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By The Associated Press

The Thai captain of a seized cargo ship carrying an estimated $2 million worth of seafood has been arrested in Indonesia on suspicion of illegal fishing. At least one other crew member is also under scrutiny.

The massive Thai-owned Silver Sea 2 was first identified by the Associated Press in July through a high-resolution photo taken from space, showing slave-caught fish being loaded onto the refrigerated vessel in Papua New Guinea's waters.

Friday's arrest is one of at least 10 made in Indonesia and Thailand since the AP investigation tied enslaved migrant workers to the supply chains of major U.S. food sellers and pet food companies six months ago.

As a result, more than 2,000 men from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have been identified or sent home, a multi-million dollar Thai-Indonesian fishing business has been shut down, class action lawsuits have been filed and new laws have been introduced.

Touring the Silver Sea 2 on Friday, Indonesian Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said she believed the frozen fish in its holds came from eastern Indonesia's Arafura Sea, where foreign fishing vessels are banned.

Pudjiastuti said she hoped anyone found guilty would face harsh punishment as a deterrent, and added the vessel may be destroyed. The 2,285-ton ship is now at a naval base in Sabang in the country's far northwestern tip where it was seized last month.

"If the court decides it should be confiscated, then we will sink it," she said.

Silver Sea Reefer Co., which owns Silver Sea 2, maintains it has done nothing wrong.

Thailand's fishing industry, worth $7 billion a year in exports, relies on tens of thousands of poor migrant laborers who come seeking jobs mainly from neighboring countries. They often are tricked, sold or kidnapped and put onto boats sent to distant foreign waters to fish.

Late last year, AP journalists saw slave-caught fish being loaded onto another reefer owned by Silver Sea in the Indonesian island village of Benjina, where men were found locked in a cage for asking to go home.

Enslaved workers in similar cases say they were routinely beaten and forced to work nearly nonstop with little or no pay.