Twenty-two Years a Slave: Burmese Fisherman returns home after forced-crewing Thai & Indonesian Boats

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All he did was ask to go home. This is the story of Myint Naing. Myint is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry. TUAL, Indonesia (AP)

I just read this story about migrant workers and forced labour and felt compelled to share it:

The last time the Burmese slave made the same request, he was beaten almost to death. But after being gone eight years and forced to work on a boat in faraway Indonesia, Myint Naing was willing to risk everything to see his mother again. His nights were filled with dreams of her, and time was slowly stealing her face from his memory.

So he threw himself on the ground and roped his arms around the captain’s legs to beg for freedom.

The Thai skipper barked loud enough for all to hear that Myint would be killed for trying to abandon ship. Then he flung the fisherman onto the deck and chained down his arms and legs.

Myint was left for three days to burn in the searing sun and shiver in the nighttime rain, without food or water. He wondered how he would be killed. Would they throw his body overboard to wash up on shore, like the other corpses he’d seen? Would they shoot him? Or would they simply bash his head open, as they had done before?

He was never going to see his mother again. He would simply disappear, and she wouldn’t even know where to look.

In this May 14, 2015 photo, Myint Naing, 40, who spent over two decades as a slave fisherman, arrives at Myanmar’'s international airport in Yangon, Myanmar, as he returns to his home country. Myint was among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 14, 2015 photo, Myint Naing, 40, who spent over two decades as a slave fisherman, arrives at Myanmar’’s international airport in Yangon, Myanmar, as he returns to his home country. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Myint Naing runs his fingers through his hair as he speaks with neighbors and family members in Mon State, Myanmar after being gone 22 years. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Myint Naing runs his fingers through his hair as he speaks with neighbors and family members in Mon State, Myanmar after being gone 22 years. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Every year, thousands of migrant workers like Myint are tricked or sold into the seafood industry’s gritty underworld. It’s a brutal trade that has operated for decades as an open secret in Southeast Asia’s waters, where unscrupulous companies rely on slaves to supply fish to major supermarkets and stores worldwide.

As part of a year-long investigation into the multibillion-dollar business, The Associated Press interviewed more than 340 current and former slaves, in person or in writing. The stories told by one after another are strikingly similar.

Myint is a thin, soft-spoken man with the wiry strength of someone who has worked hard all his life. Illness has left his right arm partly paralyzed and his mouth clenched into a forced half-smile. But when he breaks into laughter, you see flashes of the boy he once was, despite all that has happened in between — a 22-year odyssey recounted by Myint and his relatives.

He comes from a small village off a narrow, dusty road in southern Myanmar’s Mon State, the oldest of four boys and two girls. In 1990, his father drowned while fishing, leaving him as the man in charge at just 15. He helped cook, wash clothes and care for his siblings, but they kept sliding deeper into poverty.

In this May 15, 2015 photo, Myint Naing, 40, a former slave fisherman who spent more than two decades in Indonesia after being enslaved on Thai fishing boats, rests at a government social welfare hostel in Yangon, Myanmar, after returning to his home country the day before. Slavery has operated for decades as an open secret in Southeast Asia's waters, where unscrupulous companies rely on slaves to supply fish to major supermarkets and stores worldwide. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Myint Naing, rests at a government social welfare hostel in Yangon, Myanmar, after returning to his home country the day before. Slavery has operated for decades as an open secret in Southeast Asia’s waters, where unscrupulous companies rely on slaves to supply fish to major supermarkets and stores worldwide. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

So when a fast-talking broker visited the neighborhood three years later with stories of jobs in Thailand, Myint was easily wooed. The agent offered $300 for just a few months of work — enough for some families to survive on for a year. He and several other young men quickly put their hands up to go.

His mother, Khin Than, wasn’t so sure. He was only 18 years old, with no education or travel experience. But he kept begging, arguing that he wouldn’t be gone long and relatives already working there could look after him.

Finally, she relented.

Neither of them knew it but, at that moment, Myint began a journey that would take him thousands of miles away from his family. He would miss births, deaths, marriages and the unlikely transition of his country from a dictatorship to a bumpy democracy. He would run away twice from the ruthless forced labor on a fishing boat, only to realize that he could never escape from the shadow of fear.

Yet on the day he left home in 1993, all Myint saw was promise. The broker hustled his new recruits to grab their bags immediately, and Myint’s 10-year-old sister wiped tears from her cheeks as she watched him walk down the dirt track away from their village.

In this May 15, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing waves as he carries his bag at a bus station in Yangon, Myanmar, as he makes the journey home to Mon State. He is the oldest of four boys and two girls. In 1990, his father drowned while fishing, leaving him as the man in charge at just 15. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 15, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing waves as he carries his bag at a bus station in Yangon, Myanmar, as he makes the journey home to Mon State. He is the oldest of four boys and two girls. In 1990, his father drowned while fishing, leaving him as the man in charge at just 15. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

 His mother wasn’t home. He never got to say goodbye.

_______

Thailand earns $7 billion a year from a seafood industry that runs on labor from the poorest parts of the country, along with Cambodia, Laos and especially Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma. Up to 200,000 estimated migrants, most of them illegal, work at sea. Their catch ends up halfway around the globe in the United States, Europe and Japan — on dinner tables and in cat food bowls.

As overfishing decimates stocks near Thailand’s shores, trawlers have been forced to venture farther and farther into more plentiful foreign waters. The dangerous work keeps men at sea for months or even years with fake Thai identity documents, trapped aboard floating prisons run by captains with impunity. Though Thai officials deny it, they have long been accused of turning a blind eye to such practices.

After easily skirting police at the border with Thailand and being held in a small shed with little food for more than a month, Myint was shoved onto a boat. The men were at sea for 15 days and finally docked in the far eastern corner of Indonesia. The captain shouted that everyone on board now belonged to him, using words Myint would never forget:

In this May 15, 2015, photo, Myint Naing, 40, rear center, is seated on a bus with other former slave fisherman in Yangon, Myanmar, as they make their journey home to Mon State. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 15, 2015, photo, Myint Naing, 40, rear center, is seated on a bus with other former slave fisherman in Yangon, Myanmar, as they make their journey home to Mon State.  (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

“You Burmese are never going home. You were sold, and no one is ever coming to rescue you.”

He was panicked and confused. He thought he would be fishing in Thai waters for only a few months. Instead the boys were taken to the Indonesian island of Tual in the Arafura Sea, one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, stocked with tuna, mackerel, squid, shrimp and other lucrative species for export.

Myint spent weeks at a time on the open ocean, living only on rice and the parts of the catch no one else would eat. During the busiest times, the men worked up to 24 hours a day, hoisting heavy nets rippling with fish. They were forced to drink foul-tasting boiled sea water.

He was paid only $10 a month, and sometimes not at all. There was no medicine. Anyone who took a break or fell ill was beaten by the Thai captain, who once lobbed a piece of wood at Myint for not moving fish fast enough.

Nearly half the Burmese men surveyed by the AP said they were beaten, or witnessed others being abused. They were made to work almost nonstop for nearly no pay, with little food and unclean water. They were whipped with toxic stingray tails, shocked with Taser-like devices and locked in a cage for taking breaks or attempting to flee. Sometimes, the men said, the bodies of those who died were stashed in the ship’s freezer alongside the fish.

In this May 16, 2015, photo, Myint Naing, 40, center, a former slave fisherman, is interviewed by officials from Myanmar's anti-trafficking police unit at a government hostel in Mon State, Myanmar. When a broker visited his hometown three years after his father died, with stories of jobs in Thailand, the 18-year-old Myint was easily wooed. The agent offered $300 for just a few months of work — enough for some families to survive on for a year. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015, photo, Myint Naing, 40, center, a former slave fisherman, is interviewed by officials from Myanmar’s anti-trafficking police unit at a government hostel in Mon State, Myanmar. When a broker visited his hometown three years after his father died, with stories of jobs in Thailand, the 18-year-old Myint was easily wooed. The agent offered $300 for just a few months of work — enough for some families to survive on for a year. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Workers on some boats were killed for slowing down or trying to jump ship. The Burmese fishermen said others flung themselves overboard because they saw no escape. Myint spotted several bloated bodies floating in the water.

By 1996, after three years, he had had enough. Penniless and homesick, he waited until his boat returned to Tual. Then he went into the office on the dock and, for the first time, asked to go home.

His request was answered by a helmet cracking his skull. As blood oozed out, he used both hands to hold the wound together. The Thai man who hit him repeated the words that already haunted him:

“We will never let you Burmese fishermen go. Even when you die.”

That was the first time he ran away.

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, front row, second from right, raises his hand as attendance is taken at a government hostel in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, front row, second from right, raises his hand as attendance is taken at a government hostel in Mon State, Myanmar.  (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, puts on his shoes at a government hostel in Mon State, Myanmar, as he waits to return to his village to be reunited with his family. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, puts on his shoes at a government hostel in Mon State, Myanmar, as he waits to return to his village to be reunited with his family. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015, photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, his mother Khin Than, right and sister Mawli Than, left, walk toward their home while crying after they were reunited after 22 years in their village in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015, photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, his mother Khin Than, right and sister Mawli Than, left, walk toward their home while crying after they were reunited after 22 years in their village in Mon State, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE WEDNESDAY, JULY 1, 2015 AND THEREAFTER - In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, bows down as his mother, Khin Than, pours water with traditional tamarind soap on his head to cleanse away evil spirits before he enters their family home following their reunion in Mon State Myanmar after spending 22 years apart. His mother was like him: She never gave up. She prayed for him every day, and asked fortune tellers year after year about her son. They assured her he was alive, but in a faraway place difficult to leave. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, bows down as his mother, Khin Than, pours water with traditional tamarind soap on his head to cleanse away evil spirits before he enters their family home following their reunion in Mon State Myanmar after spending 22 years apart. His mother was like him: She never gave up. She prayed for him every day, and asked fortune tellers year after year about her son. They assured her he was alive, but in a faraway place difficult to leave. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

On islands scattered throughout Indonesia’s Maluku chain, also known as the Spice Islands, thousands of migrant fishermen who have escaped or been abandoned by their captains quietly hide out in the jungle. Some start families with local women, partly to protect themselves from slave catchers. It’s risky, but one of the only ways to find a semblance of freedom.

An Indonesian family took mercy on Myint until he healed, and then offered him food and shelter in exchange for work on their farm. For five years, he lived this simple life and tried to erase memories of the horrors at sea. He learned to speak the Indonesian language fluently and acquired a taste for the food, even though it was much sweeter than the salty Burmese dishes his mother fixed.

But he couldn’t forget his relatives in Myanmar or the friends he left behind on the boat. What happened to them? Were they still alive?

Sometimes Myint quietly visited other runaway Burmese slaves on the island to talk about home, bringing a big bag of vegetables he grew himself.

“He was a bit afraid to go around,” remembered Naing Oo, another former Burmese slave in Tual. “It was very brutal on the fishing boats.”

In the meantime, the world around him was changing. By 1998, Indonesia’s longtime dictator Suharto had fallen, and the country was moving toward democracy. Myint wondered if maybe things were getting better on the ships too.

In 2001, he heard one captain was offering to take fishermen back to Myanmar if they agreed to work. He was determined to find a way home. So, eight years after he first arrived in Indonesia, he returned to the sea.

Right away, he knew he’d fallen into the same trap again. The work and conditions were just as appalling as the first time, and the money still didn’t come.

If anything, the slavery was getting worse. Thailand was rapidly becoming one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, and needed more cheap labor. Brokers deceived, coerced or sometimes even drugged and kidnapped migrant workers, including children, the sick and the disabled.

After nine months on the water, Myint’s captain broke his promise and told the crew he was abandoning them to go back to Thailand alone.

Furious and desperate, the Burmese slave once again pleaded to go home. That, he said, was when the captain chained him to the boat for three days.

Myint searched wildly for something, anything, to open the lock. Working it with his fingers was useless. Then he managed to fashion a small piece of metal into a makeshift pick and spent hours trying to quickly and quietly unlatch freedom. Finally, there was a click. The shackles slid off. He knew there wasn’t much time, and if he got caught, death would come swiftly.

Sometime after midnight, he dove into the black water and swam to shore. Then he ran without looking back, in clothes still weighted by sea water.

He knew he had to disappear. This time, for good.

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing cries after his mother Khin Than, left and sister Mawli Than poured water with traditional tamarind soap on his head to cleanse away evil spirits in Mon State, Myanmar after spending 22 years apart. As a slave, Myint says he spent weeks at a time on the open ocean, living only on rice and the parts of the catch no one else would eat. During the busiest times, the men worked up to 24 hours a day, hoisting heavy nets rippling with fish. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing cries after his mother Khin Than, left and sister Mawli Than poured water with traditional tamarind soap on his head to cleanse away evil spirits in Mon State, Myanmar after spending 22 years apart. As a slave, Myint says he spent weeks at a time on the open ocean, living only on rice and the parts of the catch no one else would eat. During the busiest times, the men worked up to 24 hours a day, hoisting heavy nets rippling with fish. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

The slave trade in the Southeast Asian seafood industry is remarkable in its resilience. Over the past decade, outsiders have begun to take notice, and the U.S. government slams Thailand in annual reports year after year for pervasive labor abuses in fishing. Yet it continues, and it seldom lets go of the lives of those it ruins.

After he ran the second time, Myint hid alone in a bamboo shack in the jungle. But just three years later, he fell ill with what appeared to be a stroke. His nerves seemed to stop firing properly, leaving him easily chilled despite the oppressive tropical heat.

When he became too sick to work, the same Indonesian family cared for him with a kindness that reminded him of relatives back home. He had forgotten what his mother looked like, and knew that by now his favorite little sister would be all grown up. They likely thought he was dead.

What he didn’t know was that his mother was like him: She never gave up. She prayed for him every day at the little Buddhist altar in her family’s traditional stilt house, and asked fortune tellers year after year about her son. They assured her he was alive, but in a faraway place difficult to leave.

At one point, another Burmese man told the family that Myint was fishing in Indonesia and married. But Myint never wanted to be tethered to the country that had destroyed his life.

“I didn’t want an Indonesian wife, I just wanted to go back home to Myanmar,” he said. “I felt like I lost my young man’s life. I just thought that all of this time, I should have been in Burma having a wife and a proper family.”

After eight more years in the jungle without a clock or calendar, time began to blur. Now in his 30s, he started to believe the captain had been right: There really was no escape.

He couldn’t go to the police or local officials, afraid they might hand him over to the captains for a fee. He had no way to call home. And he was scared to contact the Myanmar embassy because it would expose him as an illegal migrant.

In 2011, the solitude had become too much. Myint moved to the island of Dobo, where he had heard there were more Burmese. He and two other runaway slaves farmed chilies, eggplant, peas and beans until the police arrested one in the market and put him back on a boat. The man later fell sick at sea and died.

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Mawli Than, left, sister of former slave fisherman Myint Naing, right, pours water over Myint in Mon State, Myanmar, after spending 22 years apart. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Mawli Than, left, sister of former slave fisherman Myint Naing, right, pours water over Myint in Mon State, Myanmar, after spending 22 years apart.  (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

It was yet another reminder to Myint that if he wanted to survive, he needed to do it carefully.

One day in April, a friend came to him with news: An AP report linking slavery in the seafood industry to some of the biggest American grocery stores and pet food companies had spurred the Indonesian government to start rescuing current and former slaves on the islands. To date, more than 800 have been found and repatriated.

This was his chance. When the officials came to Dobo, he went back with them to Tual, where he was once a slave — this time to join hundreds of other free men.

After 22 years in Indonesia, Myint was finally going home. But what, he wondered, would he find?

____

The flight from Indonesia to Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, was a terrifying first for Myint. He walked out of the airport with a small black suitcase and a donated hat and shirt — all he had to show for his long time abroad.

Myint was coming back a stranger to his own country. Myanmar was no longer ruled by a secretive military government, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was free from years of house arrest and in Parliament.

The currency was baffling. He struggled to convert 15,000 Indonesian rupiah into about 1,000 Myanmar kyat, both roughly $1.

“I feel like a tourist,” he said, sweat dripping down his face and chest. “I feel Indonesian.”

The food was different, and so were the greetings. Myint kept shaking hands and touching his heart the Indonesian way, instead of bowing with his hands in a prayer position like a Burmese.

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Mawli Than, left, sister of former slave fisherman Myint Naing, ritually washes him in Mon State, Myanmar after spending 22 years apart. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Mawli Than, left, sister of former slave fisherman Myint Naing, ritually washes him in Mon State, Myanmar after spending 22 years apart.  (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Even the words seemed odd. While he waited with other former slaves for the bus to Mon State, they chatted not in their native Burmese, but in Bahasa Indonesia.

“I don’t want to speak that language anymore because I suffered so much there,” he said. “I hate that language now.” Yet he continued to slip in and out of it.

Most of all, just as the country had changed, so had he. He had left as a boy, but was returning a 40-year-old man who had been enslaved or in hiding for more than half his life. And he was the only one from his village to come back at all.

When he reached his home state, Myint’s emotions started to fray. He was too nervous to eat. He fidgeted, running his hands through his hair and constantly rubbing the heart-shaped abalone pendant around his neck. Finally, it all became too much, and he started to sob.

“My life was just so bad that it hurts me a lot to think about it,” he choked out. “I miss my mom.”

He wondered if he would even recognize his mother and sister, or if they would remember him.

An hour later, he slapped his head in frustration as he tried to remember which way to go. The roads were now paved and lined with new buildings. He rubbed his palms on his pants and squirmed in excitement when he recognized a police station. He knew he was close.

Finally, the car he was riding in turned into a small village. He called a phone number that he had gotten only the day before. Seconds later, when he saw a plump Burmese woman — on the same road that had led him away so many years ago — he knew immediately it was his little sister.

They exploded into an embrace, and the tears that spilled were of joy and mourning for all the lost time apart. “Brother, it’s so good that you are back!” she sobbed. “We don’t need money! We just need family! Now you are back, it’s all that we need.”

But his mother was missing. Myint anxiously scanned the road as his sister frantically dialed a number.

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Mawli Than, left, sister of former slave fisherman Myint Naing, right, pours water over Myint in Mon State, Myanmar, after spending 22 years apart. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Mawli Than, left, sister of former slave fisherman Myint Naing, right, pours water over Myint in Mon State, Myanmar, after spending 22 years apart.  (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, foreground left, comforts his mother, Khin Than, after she fainted in Mon State, Myanmar, following their reunion after Myint returned after having been gone for 22 years. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, foreground left, comforts his mother, Khin Than, after she fainted in Mon State, Myanmar, following their reunion after Myint returned after having been gone for 22 years. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

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In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing and his mother, Khin Than, cry as they are reunited after 22 years at their village in Mon State, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Khin Than, center, is attended to after she fainted during a reunion in Mon State, Myanmar with her son Myint Naing, a former slave fisherman who was away for 22 years. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, Khin Than, center, is attended to after she fainted during a reunion in Mon State, Myanmar with her son Myint Naing, a former slave fisherman who was away for 22 years.  (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

And then a small, frail figure with gray-streaked hair began to run.

When he spotted her, he howled and fell to the ground, burying his face in his hands. She swept him up in her arms and softly stroked his head, cradling him as he let everything go.

They wailed and wept so loudly, the whole village emerged to see what seemed like a ghost. “That guy’s been gone for 20 years,” one man said.

Myint, his mother and his sister walked arm-in-arm to the simple stilt house of his childhood. At the front gate, he crouched on his knees, and they heaved water with a traditional tamarind soap on his head to cleanse away evil spirits.

As his sister helped wash his hair, his 60-year-old mother turned pale and collapsed against a bamboo ladder. Then, suddenly, she grabbed her heart and began to gasp for air. Relatives and neighbors fanned her and fetched water and a lime to smell, but her eyes rolled back into her head. Someone yelled that she wasn’t breathing.

Myint ran to her, dripping wet, and blew three breaths into her mouth.

“Open your eyes! Open your eyes!” he screamed, beating his chest with both hands. “I’ll look after you from now on! I will make you happy! I don’t want to see you sick! I am back home!”

She slowly revived, and Myint took a long look into her eyes.

He was finally free to see the face from his dreams. He would never forget it again.

____

WHERE THIS STORY CAME FROM:

Myint Naing’s story comes from interviews with him, his family, his friends and other former slaves, and through following his journey from a makeshift camp set up for rescued men at an Indonesian port in Tual, Indonesia, to his home in Myanmar. He’s among hundreds rescued and returned to their families after a year-long AP investigation exposed extreme labor abuses in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry. Reporters documented how slave-caught fish is shipped from Indonesia to Thailand. It can then be exported to the United States and cloud the supply chains of supermarkets and distributors, including Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and pet food brands, such as Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. The companies have all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and are taking steps to prevent it.

Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MargieMasonAP.

Tonga: New Zealand to help Tonga develop sustainable deepwater fisheries

Tonga flag background image

I just saw a wee snippet in Dive New Zealand:

The $2.7m NZ government-funded project draws expertise from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the South Pacific community, Tonga’s government and fishing industry. The aim is to develop a well-managed, sustainable line fishery for deepwater fish in Tonga’s Exclusive Economic Zone. 

This Tongan aid programme was first announced last month by NIWA in a press release:

New Zealand helps Tongan deepwater fisheries development

“A programme to help Tonga maximise the economic benefits of commercial fishing has been launched in the country’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

Coinciding with a visit to Tonga by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, the $2.7m NZ government-funded project draws together expertise from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the Secretariat for the Pacific Community, Tonga’s government and fishing industry.

The aim is to develop a well-managed, sustainable line fishery for deepwater fish in Tonga’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Project leader and NIWA fisheries scientist Dr Stuart Hanchet said the project was funded by the NZ Aid Partnership Programme and partners will explore ways to maximise economic returns and develop new market opportunities.

“Biological sustainability and improved management are also key objectives,” Dr Hanchet said.

The project builds on the recently approved Tongan Deepwater Fisheries Management Plan by providing key information to support implementation of the plan.”

It is always great to see this kind of private enterprise investment in development in areas of the world that need it, in particular Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Tonga.

According to South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), the State of Tonga requires all the sustainable development assistance it can get:

“Only 30% of Tongan women are employed and 40% of them are underemployed being engaged in subsistence farming, fishing and handicrafts. 23% of the population lives below the poverty line [us$2.11 per day is well below the poverty line]. Opportunities for salaried employment are scarce.

Sustainable development in Tonga

The Agenda 21 website provides a good overview on sustainable development in Tonga:

The Agenda 21 was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Conference recommended that States consider preparing national reports and communicating the information therein to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) including, activities they undertake to implement Agenda 21, the obstacles and challenges they confront, and other environment and development issues they find relevant.

The Johannesburg Summit 2002 (the World Summit on Sustainable Development) organised by UN Commission on Sustainable Development focused on strategies for meeting challenges that best humanity going forward, including improving people’s lives and conserving our natural resources in a world that is growing in population, with ever-increasing demands for food, water, shelter, sanitation, energy, health services and economic security.

Also see: NZ announces “sustainable” development assistance for Tonga

Incidentally Planet Ratings (A Global Microfinance Rating Agency) conducted a Smart GIRAFE Rating for SPBD Tonga who were granted SPBD a ‘good investment’ grade of “B+” noting a “Positive” trend.

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USA: Incredible (near) futuristic videos – ‘A day made of glass’

american-flag-waving-in-the-breeze-todd-gipstein

I was just sent these youtube clips that were put together by Corning entitled “A Day made of Glass

These days of glass are not far away!

These clips are certainly a peak at where we are going.

Who are Corning?

According to the Huffington Post (02/ 7/2012 ):

“Corning, the maker of Gorilla Glass display coverings for smartphone and tablet touchscreens, wants you to picture a future in which interactive displays cover nearly every surface.

In January, Corning announced an even more durable and lightweight second-generation of Gorilla Glass, but the company also has some ambitious visions of possible innovations. Showcasing some of its stunning, futuristic concepts, Corning on February 3 released a gorgeous video titled “A Day Made of Glass 2,” a sequel to its equally impressive viral video “A Day Made of Glass,” posted last February.

Both videos feature a family of four going about a “normal day,” aided by glass-pane tablets and touchscreen walls. But the latest video reveals an even broader view of the role specialty glass could play in the “near future,” reaching out of the home and into hospitals, schools, even parks.

In a release accompanying the video on the company’s website, Corning explained the role that custom-made glass products might soon play in high-tech daily life:

Glass is the essential material enabling this new world. The displays and touch surfaces of the future will require materials that are tough, yet thin and lightweight; that can enable complex electronic circuits and nano functionality; that can scale for very large applications, and that also have a cool, touch-friendly aesthetic.

With these materials, the wall-sized interactive displays, multitouch work tables, paper-thin readers, and electrochromic windows shown in “A Day Made of Glass 2″ could be available in homes, classrooms, hospitals — nearly everywhere else.”

Here is how Corning Describes themselves on their ‘about us page‘:

Corning is one of the world’s leading innovators in materials science. For more than 160 years, Corning has applied its unparalleled expertise in specialty glass, ceramics, and optical physics to develop products that have transformed people’s lives. Today, Corning’s products enable diverse industries such as consumer electronics, telecommunications, transportation, and life sciences. Learn more about how Corning collaborates closely with customers and applies its unique combination of material and process expertise to solve tough technology challenges.”

See their Videos:

A Day Made of Glass – Made possible by Corning… (2011)

A Day Made of Glass 2 (2012)

A Day Made of Glass 2: Unpacked (2012)

A Day Made of Glass 90-Second Montage (2013)

  • A fast-paced, 90-second snapshot of Corning’s vision for the future of glass technologies.  View Video

A Day Made of Glass 5-Minute Montage (2013)

  • An overarching, five-minute montage of Corning’s “A Day Made of Glass” video series.  View Video

Students React to the “A Day Made of Glass” Videos (2012)

  • A group of high school students comment on Corning’s vision for the future of glass technologies.  View Video
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USA: U.S. Debt-Cap Accord – What are the prospects for Congress approving an increase in the U.S. debt limit?

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I just read on Bloomberg that “Senate Leaders Say They’re Optimistic on U.S. Debt-Cap Accord

Well if Congress wants to buy time and avoid a global financial meltdown (at least in the short term) they had better be optimistic. Especially since its the dysfunctional bi-partisan US political system rather than the the state of the that is driving this present crisis [for the most part part].

Notwithstanding the the undeniable fact that the raising of the debt ceiling is really tantamount to putting putting ‘some ointment and a band-aid’ on a wound that needs surgery followed by a course of antibiotics.  However without this band-aid the US Treasury has said it will reach the debt cap of US$16.7 trillion  on 17 October 2013.

The US Congressional Budget Office pulled no punches issuing a warning  that if Congress does nothing, the US federal government will not be able to meet repayments between 23 Oct. and 31 Oct. 2013 (starting with the US$12b Social Security payment which is due on 23 October 2013).  A US default would send shock waves through Wall Street, triggering another economic crisis as borrowing costs would spike across the economy. These shock waves would reverberate outwards affecting country after country.

Jason Lange of Stuff.co.nz in a piece (How the US could default) posted last week on 8 October put it like this:

[In the event of a US default, the US economy] would sink like a stone. Once default began, the [US] government would have to slash its spending overnight by about a third. The fiscal drag, if it lasted a full year, would be the equivalent of up to 4.2 per cent of national economic output, according to calculations by Goldman Sachs.

That doesn’t take into account the potential for a financial crisis. If investors lost their cool, stock markets could tumble, hitting pension funds and leading consumers to spend less of their money. Credit markets could freeze up because investors around the world might reassess the value of US debt, which serves as collateral for trillions of dollars in loans and other financial transactions [around the world]. The Treasury has warned a default could trigger the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

Incidentally this nightmare that would result  from the imminent default in the event of a congressional impasse would coincide with the arrival of Halloween. Oh the irony!

According to Blomberg the Agreement will:

The emerging agreement would suspend the debt limit through Feb. 15, 2014, fund the government through Jan. 15, 2014, and require a House-Senate conference on budget matters by Dec. 15, according to a Senate source familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss them.”

The Recent USA Federal Government Services Shutdown

In recent weeks we’ve seen picture son TV of federal government shutdown where with the prospect of a looming US default after Republicans in Congress ruled out the ability of the US to borrow any more,  without concessions (mostly Medicare) from President Barack Obama. The inability to borrow resulted in the systematic shutdown of US Federal services.

A graphic produced by the Chicago Tribune which was featured by stuff.co.nz last week breaks down the shutdown by State and by Government service.

The Effects of the USA Federal Govet. Services Shutdown across the USA (source Chicago Tribune)

The Effects of the USA Federal Govt. Services Shutdown across the USA (source Chicago Tribune)

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Chinese Exports down & Imports up! China set to overtake the USA as the Largest OPEC Importer!

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According to Sydney Morning Herald China’s export growth decreased in September driven by a ‘tumble’ in  sales to South-East Asia tumbled.

China’s exports dropped 0.3 per cent in September from a year earlier, the Customs Administration said on Saturday, sharply confounding market expectations for a rise of 6 per cent, and marking the worst performance in three months. Imports fared better, rising 7.4 per cent in September from a year ago, better than forecasts for a 7 per cent increase, shrinking China’s monthly trade surplus to $US15.2 billion.”

Analysts cite worries about flagging global demand for Chinese products in in emerging markets – especially when tighter US monetary policy pushes investors away from developing economies. According to Analysts data showed Chinese exports to Southeast Asia, China’s fastest-growing export market in the past year, dived to a 17-month low in September.

According to SMH:

A breakdown of the data showed exports to Europe, the second-biggest buyer of Chinese good after the United States, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia all fell last month. Shipments to Taiwan struck a 17-month low while those to Australia posted their worst growth in three months. Japan was the lone bright spot, registering growth for Chinese exporters for the first time in eight months. Sales to the United States cooled, even though the monthly value of exports were at their highest in over a year.”

Other analysts have cited a strong renminbi has one driver behind the erosion of China’s export competitiveness.

But we’ve heard this all before… Indications of DECLINE… Yet so far the hard landing that all the analysts have been long predicting has yet to happen. A slowndown in one quarter is not indicative of a trend. SMH although quick to show a drop in exports went so far as to acknowledge this:

…dismal exports performance comes after the world’s No. 2 economy showed encouraging signs of stabilisation, having fought a slowdown that lasted in 12 of 14 quarters. Trade, factory production and the services sector all picked up in the past two months.

Attention now turns to China’s third-quarter gross domestic product data and other figures for September due next week. Economic growth is expected to quicken to 7.8 per cent in the third quarter from a year ago, up from 7.5 per cent in the previous three months.”

One indication of continued churning of Chinese market machinery is the sustained demand for oil. Which this last September, saw more crude head China’s way than to any other state including the USA.  WSJ Asia China is on track to become the world’s top buyer of oil from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries:

Untitled

China set to become Top OPEC Customer

The video above sees WSJ’s Deborah Kan talks to Wood Mackenzie’s President of Global Markets William Durbin about China’s growing demand for Middle East oil and its commercial and geopolitical consequences.

This is re-iterated by the Sydney Morning Herald that also provides readers with some data:

Average imports of crude in September stood at 6.25 million barrels per day (bpd), up 28 per cent on the year and topping the previous record of 6.15 million bpd set in July.

Net imports of 6.23 million bpd show that China overtook the United States in September as the world’s biggest net oil importer, a trend which the US Energy Information Administration said would continue through 2014.

In terms of monthly tonnage, September imports of 25.68 million tonnes was the second-highest on record after July, bringing total shipments in the first nine months to 211.3 million tonnes, up 5.4 per cent from a year ago.

Traders have attributed the monthly gain to a slew of large refineries going online after completing scheduled maintenance.”

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The demand for Salmon in Korea is exponential – Norway moving to ensure it is them that will meet it!

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I read yesterday on “Norway” (the official Norwegian Government Sth Korean Consular type website) that a Norwegian seafood company (Marine Harvest) opened a Seafood Processing Plant in Incheon, South Korea.

I have to admire the initiative. I admire South Korea for addressing the demand for Salmon, and acting upon that demand by facilitating its continued supply… by what can only be (I postulate) some type of joint venture that will help their foreign joint venture partner successfully navigate complicated domestic market and country of origin rules for imported seafood.  I admire the Norwegians for getting out there making the most of their FTA with South Korea, and securing a market for their Salmon with an adherence to quality, aggressive marketing, and a “can do” attitude.

Norge Seafood has a significance presence in South Korea, with sales not only limited to salmon products (http://blog.naver.com/norgeseafood/)

Norge Seafood has a significance presence in South Korea, with sales not only limited to salmon products (http://blog.naver.com/norgeseafood/)

"Innovation Norway' has a team on the ground in Seoul (of mostly Korean nationals), to facilitate linkages between Norwegian and Korean commerce. In their own words "Planning establishment in South Korea? Or are you looking for business partners in this exciting market? Contact us and we set up a meeting with you in Norway"(see http://www.innovasjonnorge.no/Kontorer-i-utlandet/korea/)

“Innovation Norway’ has a team on the ground in Seoul (of mostly Korean nationals), to facilitate linkages between Norwegian and Korean commerce. In their own words “Planning establishment in South Korea? Or are you looking for business partners in this exciting market? Contact us and we set up a meeting with you in Norway”(see http://www.innovasjonnorge.no/Kontorer-i-utlandet/korea/)

The Norway article refered to the opening speach of Norwegian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, H.E. Torbjørn Holthe:

The investment in this packing plant shows Marine Harvest’s commitment to bringing fresh Norwegian salmon to South Korean consumers

The Marine Harvest processing facility (which opened two days ago in Incheon) is essentially a salmon filleting and packaging facility. The article quotes Henrik Vikjaer Andersen, Norwegian Seafood Council Director for Japan and South Korea as saying:

With this modern factory Marine Harvest can make an even stronger case to South Korean consumers that their fresh Norwegian salmon is as safe to eat as it is tasty.

But I read the subtext like this:

With this facility in place, we (Norwegian Marine Harvest) can readily supply South Korea (and other North Asian markets China and Japan) with ‘cheaper’ high quality product, that is prepared locally, which not only enables more connectivity with the local North Asian Market, but strategically places Marine Harvest salmon products right in the middle of the domestic mass market (at least in South Korea for the time being). In addition, the move also provides Marine Harvest with considerable leverage over other regional producers whose products will continue to be perceived by locals (and thereby forcing those other products to market themselves in South Korea) as premium foreign products.

The Article continued:

Since the FTA between Norway and the Republic of Korea came into effect in 2006, Norwegian fish exports to South Korea have seen a sharp increase. Norwegian seafood exports totalled NOK 462 million in 2012, about half of which was salmon. In 2012 South Korean imported more fresh Norwegian salmon than frozen for the first time, a trend that continues in 2013.

“Marine Harvest’s brand new facilities will further fuel this development. In just a few days a salmon swimming in pristine Norwegian waters is transformed into high quality seafood ready for consumption in South Korea” H.E. Ambassador Holthe continued.

Marine Harvest is a world-leading seafood company present in all major salmon farming regions in the world and it produces one fifth of the global salmon production. In addition to fresh and frozen salmon, Marine Harvest offers a wide range of value added products such as coated seafood, ready-to-eat meals, finger food and smoked seafood. The company employs 6 200 people and has operations in 22 countries worldwide.”

The move by Norway should be an inspiration to others. It should at least inspire producers from my native New Zealand. I am looking at the similarities between New Zealand and Norway, and the advantages New Zealand has (in a farmed salmon context that is). I think New Zealand should do something similar… if not better. It isn’t as though New Zealand is not able.

New Zealand has an FTA with Hong Kong – a market of 7.155 million people (2012 World Bank). This market although only around 14% of the size of the South Korean market also also enjoys a high demand for salmon products. The same goes for Singapore (with whom New Zealand has a CEP Agreement) which has a market of  around 10% of the size of the South Korean Market. Singapore also also enjoys a high demand for salmon products.  But I am thinking more about New Zealand’s  FTA with China, whose massive market (a staggering population of 1.3 billion people) also has a high demand for salmon products… To top it off, just like Norway, New Zealand produces fantastic Salmon. I would go so far to argue that New Zealand’s farmed Chinook salmon (which is characterised by its large size) is in a league of its own.

Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. Home of New Zealand King Salmon... Producers of which say that they "Sustainably produc[e] the world’s best salmon." (see http://www.salmon.org.nz/)

Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. Home of New Zealand King Salmon… Producers of which say that they “Sustainably produc[e] the world’s best salmon.” (see http://www.salmon.org.nz/)

Yet the salmon farming in New Zealand is nowhere near as cohesive as it is in Norway.

Recently I saw a presentation by New Zealand King Salmon, CEO Grant Rosewarne… and to be honest I was both inspired and saddened. I was inspired by Rosewarne’s boldness and clear vision. He presented a picture of New Zealand King Salmon doing great things for our region, both economically and environmentally.  But I was saddened by the lack of boldness and lack of vision shared by so many other New Zealanders, who cannot see Rosewarne’s vision (or refuse to see it), who just cannot internalise Where New Zealand is now and then take a long term strategic view of the market, nor can the anticipate the relationship between between development at home and market engagement abroad.

Without that cohesion and shared entrepreneurial spirit that Norway obviously has, New Zealand cannot possibly begin to make good on it’s potential, and utilise the full potential of not only it’s resources and it’s spirit, but also the international relationships New Zealand possesses, and recognition brand New Zealand receives abroad.

To truncate a long story, and postulate a point – New Zealand has to provide it’s primary producers with the requisite social licence to operate. At present New Zealand cannot produce enough salmon to meet global demand not only for salmon, but for New Zealand salmon.

Table showing Global Farmed Salmon Production per year

Farmed Salmon production

New Zealand King Salmon has applied to bring this total annual production up to 30,000 tonnes, which although a significant increase in productivity; at 1.8% of total farmed salmon production, is still considerably less than the Faroe Islands and Tasmania, and miles from the production of Norway (whose farm salmon comprises almost two thirds of the market).

As of yet the approval (“the social licence to operate” ) to expand the King Salmon operation from 5 ha to 12 ha is still pending… with ferocious opposition coming mostly from New Zealand’s considerable ‘green’ lobby.

However I am an optimist. I am hoping the reason will win the day and that the New Zealand Government will realise that if they do not facilitate growth; notwithstanding the high quality of New Zealand salmon, the larger producers will continue to occupy a higher share of the market, and worse still,  our customers who demand New Zealand salmon, and who are unable to source New Zealand Salmon, will buy the next best (probably Norwegian) as shoppers usually do. And as we’ve seen above, this is going to be easier with Norwegian salmon now being processed and packaged locally, in Incheon.

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New Zealand: Currently ranking sixth among major global markets for IPOs?

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I just read a story in the Asian WSJ (New Zealand’s Privatization Effort Propels IPO Market) which totally took me surprise… little New Zealand with its population of only 4.5 million people, “this year ranks among major global markets for initial public offerings (IPOs), thanks to a government privatization drive that has put the stock exchange on pace for one of its best-ever years for IPOs by value.”

So far this year, the NZX Ltd. has hosted a total of US$2.3 billion of IPOs, nearly double the $1.3 billion raised over the previous six years combined, according to data provider Dealogic. That has catapulted it into sixth place among the Asian-Pacific region’s top IPO markets—behind Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Thailand—and puts it in 14th place world-wide.

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Furthermore according to the Asian WSJ “the benchmark NZX-50 share index hit an all-time high last week and is the second-best performer in the region this year, behind only Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average.”

Analysts who note that the NZX-50 gained 16% this year add that “New Zealand has growth fundamentals that a lot of countries would like to have.” This has no doubt “further underpinned consumer confidence.”

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand

According to the Asia WSJ”

The privatization program driving the new listings is intended to help restore the government’s budget to a surplus in the fiscal year through June 2015, ending five years of deficits, by raising around five billion New Zealand dollars (NZ$4.2 billion). The government has already raised NZ$1.7 billion from the sale of a 49% stake in electricity generator Mighty River Power LtdOn Friday, government officials revealed details of the biggest sale of a state-owned asset in the country’s history—the IPO of Meridian Energy Ltd. The government wants to sell 49% of the company, which supplies electricity to households and businesses, and estimates the stake to be worth at least US$1.6 billion. The targeted listing date is Oct. 29.

It also plans to sell 49% of Genesis Energy Ltd. and 23% of listed flag carrier Air New Zealand Ltd. The Air New Zealand stake is valued at about NZ$350 million and might be sold later this year. The Genesis Energy offering, likely to raise around NZ$1 billion, is expected early next year.”

So how is this impacting neighbouring Australia?

The new life in New Zealand’s IPO market is giving a helping hand to the Australian Securities Exchange, where listings of domestic companies have stagnated. Mighty River Power and New Zealand fuel retailer and refiner Z Energy Ltd., which raised US$677 million in an IPO last month, were also listed on the ASX. The New Zealand government also plans a secondary listing in Australia for Meridian.”

Furthermore “expectations that the New Zealand dollar will rise against the Australian dollar have kindled interest in the IPOs among Australian fund managers looking to place bets on swings in the currencies.”

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