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Indonesians dying in the Southern Ocean

By Duncan Graham - posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012

About four million Indonesians are working overseas, building towers in Kuala Lumpur, dusting flats in Singapore and driving trucks in the Middle East.

They're known as Tenaga Kerja Indonesia (TKI) the Indonesian workforce. They remit Rp 60 trillion a year, cash which helps thousands of villages thrive, so are often labelled National Heroes by sycophantic politicians as though working overseas is dangerous.

It is. Not all the millions of Indonesians who venture abroad to clean, care and labor survive unscathed. In 2010 more than 25,000 laid complaints about mistreatment


Some return with the scars of judicial whippings and employer torture from nations like Malaysia. A few come back in coffins, killed in workplace accidents or executed in places like Saudi Arabia.

But few would expect mistreatment in an advanced and well-regulated democracy like New Zealand. This is the world's least corrupt nation, famous for its universal welfare system, concern for minorities and serious about its international obligations.

This image took a battering while NZ Prime Minister John Key was in Jakarta this month. (April) His visit was about trade but Mr Key also discussed human rights issues in Papua with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

While the two men were talking about the Republic's problems in its backyard province, a coronial inquest in Wellington was hearing disturbing stories of cruelty and exploitation of Indonesian citizens in Mr Key's own backwater.

The inquest was into the deaths of five Indonesian seamen and their Korean captain on 18 August 2010. The men drowned when their Korean-registered trawler Oyang 70 capsized in the Southern Ocean 750 kilometres east of NZ's South Island while trying to drag aboard a massive haul of fish.

Robert Leyden, a ship's surveyor advising coroner Richard McElrea, told the inquest the Indonesians could have lived if proper management systems, safety procedures, equipment maintenance and emergency drills had been in place.


In brief it was alleged the men didn't know what to do when they were tipped into the icy ocean and no one took charge.

The week-long inquest, involving seven lawyers and 15 witnesses, heard evidence given to NZ Police by the 31 Indonesian survivors.

The men were recruited from Tegal on the north coast of Central Java to work on the stern trawler alongside eight Koreans, six Filipinos and one Chinese. Not surprisingly there were language barriers.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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All articles by Duncan Graham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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