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Trawlerman's daughter hits back at fishing industry claims

Published 06/11/2015

The daughter of Michael Hayes has written a letter about conditions in the Irish fishing industry (Family handout/PA)
The daughter of Michael Hayes has written a letter about conditions in the Irish fishing industry (Family handout/PA)

The daughter of a trawlerman who drowned with four of his crew has claimed worker exploitation in Ireland's fishing industry is the exception and not the norm.

Lia ni Aodha penned an open letter to mark her anger at allegations of human trafficking, abuse and modern day slavery facing African and Asian fishermen on whitefish and prawn boats .

Gardai, justice and government officials met on Thursday for the first time as part of a special taskforce to investigate the shocking claims which also involved migrant workers allegedly suffering sleep deprivation, inhuman hours and low pay.

The response followed a report by The Guardian following a year-long investigation into workers' rights in Ireland's fishing industry.

Ms ni Aodha hit out at links with the controversy to the 2012 Tit Bonhomme trawler tragedy in Glandore Harbour, west Cork, skippered by her later father Michael Hayes.

He died when the boat sank close to shore with a 21-year-old on his maiden trip, Kevin Kershaw, and three Egyptians, Wael Mohammed, 35, Attaia Shaban, 26, and Saied Ali Eldin, 23, also drowning.

Ms ni Aodha said she felt compelled to write the letter as it had been difficult to deal with assumptions about the industry.

"While I am sure that it is unlikely that Ireland's fishing industry has managed to remain immune to the possibility that issues of trafficking and abuse occur (indeed, unfortunately, I would imagine one would be hard pressed to find such an industry anywhere globally where such instances do not occur), I am equally sure that such instances are isolated and the exception rather than the norm," Ms ni Aodha said.

Marine accident investigators found the crew of the Tit Bonhomme may only have had four or five hours sleep on a 40-hour trip but this was contradicted by the only surviving crewman during inquest hearings who doubled the figure.

Concerns were also raised about the level of safety training for the crew and lifesaving gear available only for five crew with six people on board.

Ms ni Aodha said she was surprised by the allegations of conditions on Irish trawlers and claimed it was a generalisation.

"Yes, unfortunately, there are undocumented crew members working in Ireland etching out a living as best as they can (just as there are many undocumented Irish in other parts of the world and have been for quite some time)," she said.

"However, in most cases they are doing so on the same basis as documented crews - Irish and non-Irish/ EU and non-EU."

Following the controversy an Egyptian fisherman, who has been working on Irish boats for two years and earns 500 euro a week, was this week charged with immigration offences after being stopped at Union Hall pier in west Cork.

In April 2013, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said he was aware of claims of fishermen working without permits or visas.

He warned at the time about migrants in the country illegally who may be enduring exploitative working conditions for fear of possible deportation.

The Migrants Rights Centre Ireland said it had reports of a number of cases of human trafficking and undocumented workers in the fishing industry.

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