Hawaii bill would ban licenses for some foreign fishermen

A catch of fish is unloaded from a commercial fishing boat at Pier 38 in Honolulu, in this Feb. 2 file photo. (AP)
Updated 23 February 2017
0

Hawaii bill would ban licenses for some foreign fishermen

HONOLULU: Hawaii lawmakers are considering a proposal with the potential to cripple the state’s commercial fishing industry after an Associated Press investigation found foreign fishermen confined to boats and living in subpar conditions.
A 2016 AP investigation found that some fishermen earned less than $1 an hour and worked without most basic labor protections while catching premium seafood. The boats often have crews of fishermen from Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations, and the men are restricted to their vessels when docked in Honolulu because they lack proper documentation to enter the US.
A bill in the Hawaii Legislature aims to change rules for how fishing licenses are issued to foreign crew members that make up the majority of the state’s commercial fleet.
Now, boat owners or captains bring foreign crew members’ passports and customs documents to a state agency to get their licenses — without the fishermen present. A federal legal loophole allows foreign fishermen to work off the coast of Hawaii, but they are technically not allowed to enter the country.
The bill would require anyone seeking a commercial fishing license in Hawaii to appear in person. State Sen. Karl Rhoads says he wants to change the law so people who are not permitted to enter the US cannot get a license to fish on American-flagged boats sailing from Honolulu.
“They just feel like the underdogs to me, and I don’t like to see people taken advantage of,” he said.
Despite the federal loophole, state laws require anyone applying for a fishing license to be “lawfully admitted” to the country.
US Customs and Border Protection says these men are banned, raising questions about whether the state has been violating its own law for years by allowing the foreign workers to catch and sell seafood in Hawaii.
“As the state, we don’t have a lot of jurisdiction over it, and this is a way to legitimately insert ourselves into the process, because we do require a license,” Rhoads said.
The Hawaii Longline Association opposed the bill, saying the industry is already regulated and additional requirements are unnecessary.
“It could lead to the use of no foreign crew in the fishery, which would be very devastating,” said Jim Cook, a member of the association’s board of directors. “It would be similar to having no immigrant people in agriculture in Hawaii or any other part of the United States.”
Two Hawaii Senate committees discussed the proposal Wednesday. A religious group that works with foreign fishermen opposed the bill saying the fishermen rely on the money they earn in the US But Kathryn Xian who works with trafficking victims said some fishermen are treated better than others, and the industry cannot be relied upon to self-regulate.
The committee postponed making a decision until next week.
Typically, when commercial fishing boats arrive in Honolulu, they are met by federal customs agents who ban foreign workers from entering the country by stamping “refused” on their landing permits.
But a written opinion by Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said the state Department of Land and Natural Resources provides the landing permits as proof the fishermen are “lawfully admitted.”
Rhoads says the form allows someone to land but does not allow lawful entry as required for a license.
“Right now, it just feels like lots of gray area,” Rhoads said. “I think when there are gray areas, it’s easier to take advantage of people.”
Cook, of the fishing industry group, suggested that the fishermen who are refused entry could be granted “parole” to go to the office to apply for their licenses.
Federal customs officials referred AP to federal immigration law that says parole can be given on a case-by-case basis for “urgent humanitarian reasons” or “significant public benefit.”
Foreign fishermen usually get parole only when they have a medical emergency or they are being escorted to the airport to leave the country.
But Cook said he believes there is also a parole category for ship business. Federal officials did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on that possibility.


Crisis at India's Jet worsens as it grounds planes, faces strike

The debt-laden carrier has delayed payments to banks, suppliers, pilots and lessors. (Reuters)
Updated 19 min 20 sec ago
0

Crisis at India's Jet worsens as it grounds planes, faces strike

  • More than 20,000 people are employed in the company
  • The company had to stop more than 50% of their aircraft due to insufficient funds

MUMBAI: India's Jet Airways was fighting multiple crises Wednesday after grounding six planes, leaving it with only a third of its fleet flying, while pilots have threatened to walk out and a major shareholder is reportedly looking to offload its huge stake.

The problems at India's number-two carrier come as other airlines struggle to turn a profit despite the sector rapidly expanding in the country over recent years.

Jet, which employs more than 20,000 people, is gasping under debts of more than $1 billion and has now been forced to ground a total of 78 of its 119 aircraft after failing to pay lenders and aircraft lessors.

In a statement late Tuesday announcing its latest grounding, the firm it said it was "actively engaging" with lenders to secure fresh liquidity and wanted to "minimise disruption".

But with hundreds of customers left stranded, Jet's social media accounts have been flooded with often suddenly stranded passengers demanding information, new flight tickets and refunds.

"@jetairways We book our flights in advance so that we save on travel cost and you are sending cancellation (message) now?", read one irate tweet on Wednesday.

"I have sent a DM (direct message) regarding my ticket details. Please respond!", said Sachin Deshpande, according to his Twitter profile a design engineer.

Another, Ankit Maloo, wrote: "Received an email for all together cancellation of flight days before departure without any prior intimation or communication over phone!"

The firm is also facing pressure from its many pilots who have not been paid on time, with unions threatening they will walk off the job if salaries do not arrive soon.

"Pilots will stop flying jet planes from 1st April 2019 if the company does not disburse due salaries and take concrete decisions," a spokesperson for the National Aviator's Guild, a pilots union, told AFP.

India's aviation regulator on Tuesday warned Jet Airways to ensure that staffers facing stress are not forced to operate flights.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates has offered to sell its 24 percent stake in Jet to State Bank of India (SBI).

A collapse would deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pragmatic pro-business reputation ahead of elections starting on April 11.

India's passenger numbers have rocketed six-fold over the past decade with its middle-class taking advantage of better connectivity and cheaper flights.

The country's aviation sector is projected to become the world's third-largest by 2025.

But like other carries, Mumbai-based Jet has been badly hit by fluctuating global crude prices, a weak rupee and fierce competition from budget rivals.

Alarm bells for Jet first rang in August when it failed to report its quarterly earnings or pay its staff, including pilots, on time. It then later reported a loss of $85 million.

In February, it secured a $1.19 billion bailout from lenders including SBI to bridge a funding gap, but the crisis has since deepened.

"Jet Airways is rapidly reaching a point of no return and running out of assets to keep itself afloat," Devesh Agarwal, editor of the Bangalore Aviation website, told AFP.

"The only solution is equity expansion by diluting its stakes but Jet is just trying to cut losses and running out of options," Agarwal said.

Shares in Jet Airways were down more than five percent on Wednesday.