Ukraine 'Slaves' Found On Russian Fishing Boat: IOM

GENEVA, Switzerland -- Russian coastguards have freed two dozen Ukrainian fisherman who had been forced to work in slave-like conditions on a Russian vessel poaching crab in the North Pacific, an international aid agency said on Friday.

Korsakov near Sakhalin Island

The coastguards, on patrol off Eastern Russia, impounded the boat near Sakhalin Island just before Christmas, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

"They found the men exhausted and half starved, locked in the hold with tonnes of poached crab," the Geneva-based agency said in a statement.

The men, aged 18 to 50, had been forced to work without pay for six to 10 months, often in icy water up to their knees, the IOM said. They had been deprived of food, water and sleep and subjected to beatings and psychological abuse.

"They were emaciated and traumatised. They have gone home now," but are getting medical and psychological treatment, IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya told Reuters.

The Russian prosecutor's office in the port city of Korsakov has opened a criminal case for use of slave labour, she added.

The men, from poor fishing communities on the Black Sea, were lured onto the boat after accepting bogus job offers to work on commercial fishing vessels for salaries of up to $1,000 a month, according to the agency.

Two million Ukrainians are already living abroad and the IOM warned that potential new migrants need accurate information to avoid falling prey to illegal smuggling networks or traffickers.

The IOM said its Kiev office had helped some 2,600 Ukrainians trafficked for sexual or forced labour abroad during the past five years.

Source: Reuters