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The crew, who all hail from Ghana, were rescued from their vessel after it ran into trouble, as part of a multi-agency response that included the Coast Guard and RNLI. (File image) Alamy Stock Photo
migrant fishers

Garda decision not to treat case of African fishermen as 'exploitation' blasted in Dáil

The crew ran aground off the Aran Islands last month.

LAST UPDATE | 9 May

A DECISION BY gardaí not to proceed with a human trafficking investigation in the case of four West African fishermen who were working on a boat that sank off the Aran Islands “poses a systemic threat to the welfare” of migrant fishers in Ireland’s fishing industry, the Dáil has heard.

Cork TD Mick Barry claimed that it was a “clear-cut case” of “labour exploitation” and should have been treated as such by gardaí, and criticised an alleged finding that “the fishers simply came of their own free will” to work in Ireland.

It’s the latest Oireachtas intervention on the case of the crew of the vessel, Ambitious. Previously, the Dáil heard allegations that the men were “bogusly” recruited to work in Ireland, having first thought they would be working in the UK, only to find themselves working off the Galway coast.

The crew, who all hail from Ghana, were rescued from their vessel after it ran into trouble, as part of a multi-agency response that included the Coast Guard and RNLI.

Speaking to The Journal last month, a solicitor for the vessel’s skipper said that he would not make any comment as a marine investigation was underway.

“The incident is subject to a marine investigation and our client will not be making any commentary in advance of such investigation concluding its business,” the solicitor said at the time.

The skipper is not the owner of the boat.

Reacting to Barry’s comments, the Garda Press Office said that gardaí “continue to work with the relevant agencies in assisting four foreign national males who remain in this jurisdiction as a result of a fishing vessel running aground off Inis Mór, Co Galway” last month.

The statement added: “There is no Garda criminal investigation into this incident, at this time.”

In a statement released following Barry’s comments, the ITF called for the Garda National Protective Services Bureau to “urgently reassess” the decision to not admit four migrant fishers to the National Referral Mechanism for suspected victims of human trafficking.

Details

The Dáil heard today that the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which helps migrant fishers, had contacted gardaí about the case.

Barry’s remarks came during a Dáil debate on human trafficking for sexual exploitation as part of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill.

Human trafficking is handled by the Garda National Protective Services Bureau, along with other offences including sexual crimes and prostitution.

The People Before Profit–Solidarity TD said there was a “need for dedicated legislation to cover trafficking for labour exploitation”, citing the case of the Ambitious crew.

In the Dáil last month, Barry alleged that the crew were “bogusly given the impression they would be working on UK flagged vessels and were issued UK deckhands contracts promising £1,300 per month [€1,525]“.

He said this enabled the men to receive a UK seafarers transit visa.

“However, once they landed in Belfast, they were put working illegally on an Irish flagged vessel,” Barry added.

Speaking this afternoon, Barry said:

“I have seen recent correspondence between the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the Garda relating to a clear-cut case involving of a number of Ghanaian fishers, issued with contracts suggesting they would be working in the UK before being put working illegally in highly exploitative conditions on an Irish boat, the Ambitious which sank two months ago.

“Despite the documentary proofs the Garda incredibly concluded in that the fishers simply came of their own free will, a conclusion that earned a justifiably excoriating response from the ITF.”

Barry cited a section of the letter from the ITF to investigating gardaí, saying that “this approach by the Garda ‘poses a systemic threat to the welfare’ of non-EEA migrant fishers in Ireland’s fishing industry, and ‘sends a wrong message’ to the industry”.

He added that the former crew of the Ambitious are now “languishing undocumented” in the State, while cooperating with the Workplace Relations Commission and the Marine Survey Office. Both bodies are carrying investigations with no conclusions made as of yet.

Responding to Barry, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said any situation containing “exploitation of workers” could never be accepted.

He said he would refer the issue to the Justice Minister to receive a timeline on the trafficking legislation, and to also find out the “wider story here in terms of what occurred” with the African crew.

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