Daughter of ‘Tit Bonhomme’ skipper rejects exploitation claims

Reports of widespread abuses in industry described as ‘sensationalist’

Egyptian colleagues  pray beside the hearse containing the body of crew member Attia Shaban at the pier at Union Hall in west Cork afer the Tit Bonhomme sank in  January  2012. Photograph:  Julien Behal/PA Wire

Egyptian colleagues pray beside the hearse containing the body of crew member Attia Shaban at the pier at Union Hall in west Cork afer the Tit Bonhomme sank in January 2012. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

The daughter of an Irish skipper who drowened alongside his Egyptian crewmates in a fishing tragedy has rejected claims exploitation of migrant workers is widespread in the industry.

Lia Ní Aodha’s father Michael Hayes died alongside his crew members Kevin Kershaw, Wael Mohamed, Attaia Shaban and Saied Ali Eldin when their trawler, the Tit Bonhomme sank as it entered Glandore Harbour on January 15th, 2012.

Ms Ní Aodha, who is completing a PhD on fisheries at university in Manchester, said she was surprised by the allegations of trafficking and exploitation made in the Guardian newspaper following a year-long investigation.

In an open letter to the newspaper, she said the article highlighted two distinct issues - one involving allegations of trafficking and abuse and one of the use of undocumented foreign workers in the industry and while they were not mutually exclusive, neither were the one and the same.

Tragedy at sea

“It painted undocumented and abused as synonymous, it took the general conditions that go with a life at sea and painted them as exploitation, and it took tragedy at sea and painted it as easily avoidable,” she said.

“While I am sure that it is unlikely that Ireland’s fishing industry has managed to remain immune to the possibility that trafficking and abuse occur ... I am equally sure that such instances are isolated and the exception rather than the norm.

“If there are legitimate cases of trafficking and abuse hopefully they will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately,” said Ms Ní Aodha, adding that the article was “sensationalist” and it “unfairly and unnecessarily damages a small industry on the edge of Europe”.

Ms Ní Aodha acknowledged there are undocumented migrant crews working in the Irish fishing industry as they do in other European fishing fleets but they are doing so on the same basis as documented crews, whether they are Irish or non-Irish, EU or non-EU.

Mistreatment and abuse

And she criticised the Guardian’s linking of the deaths of three Egyptians alongside her father and Kevin Kershaw in the Tit Bonhommesinking to allegations of mistreatment and abuse in the entire Irish fishing industry.

An Marine Casualty Investigation Board report into the Tit Bonhomme sinking blamed the tragedy on fatigue. However, an inquest in Cork heard from the sole survivor, Abdelbaky Mohamed, who said he had sufficient rest and was not exhausted at the time of the sinking.

“There was no particular pattern to our work or specific shifts involved. When there was fish, we worked, when there wasn’t, we had time to rest. For the duration of the trip, I would estimate I had between six and eight hours sleep,” he told the inquest.