- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

AP Investigation: Men forced to work as slaves to catch seafood for global supply

BENJINA, Indonesia (AP) - The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage, hidden on a tiny tropical island thousands of miles from home.

Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States.

But the eight imprisoned men were considered flight risks - laborers who might dare run away. They lived on a few bites of rice and curry a day in a space barely big enough to lie down, stuck until the next trawler forces them back to sea.

“All I did was tell my captain I couldn’t take it anymore, that I wanted to go home,” said Kyaw Naing, his dark eyes pleading into an Associated Press video camera sneaked in by a sympathetic worker. “The next time we docked,” he said nervously out of earshot of a nearby guard, “I was locked up.”

Here, in the Indonesian island village of Benjina and the surrounding waters, hundreds of trapped men represent one of the most desperate links criss-crossing between companies and countries in the seafood industry. This intricate web of connections separates the fish we eat from the men who catch it, and obscures a brutal truth: Your seafood may come from slaves.

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AP tracked the supply chain of slave caught fish to top US retailers

A year-long investigation into forced labor and trafficking in Southeast Asia’s fishing industry led an Associated Press team to Benjina, a small town that straddles two islands in the far reaches of eastern Indonesia. There journalists interviewed more than 40 current and former slaves, many of whom said they had been forced to work on boats overseen by Thai captains under extremely brutal conditions. They were paid little or nothing at all, and some were out to sea for months or years at a time.

The AP also found a locked cell with eight slaves inside, and handed a video camera to a dockworker, himself a former slave, to take close-up footage. Under the cover of darkness, the AP team used a small wooden boat to approach a trawler with slaves who yelled to them, pleading for help to go home.

Reporters were led to a jungle-covered graveyard that held the bodies of slaves, according to villagers and nonprofit officials. They interviewed three men who said they had escaped into the island’s jungle interior, and also spent a night sleeping in the forest on an adjacent island with other runaway slaves from Benjina.

The AP watched slave-caught fish being loaded onto a refrigerated cargo ship bound for Thailand. They tracked the reefer’s 15-day journey using satellite signals and met the vessel in Samut Sakhon, Thailand, where they saw the seafood unloaded into dozens of trucks over four nights. The journalists followed the rigs to processing factories, cold storage facilities and Thailand’s largest wholesale fish market.

The AP then worked to establish a chain, using U.S. Customs documents showing Thai companies that export to the U.S. The food goes to Europe and Asia as well as the U.S., but the AP was able to gather most information on specific companies in America, where custom records are public.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. SLAVE LABOR IN FISHING INDUSTRY EXPOSED

Modern-day slaves at a remote island village in Indonesia reveal to the AP the harsh conditions they live in. Slave-caught seafood ends up in major stores and supermarkets around the world.

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Jet crashes in French Alps with 150 on board after 8-minute plunge; Accident suspected

SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France (AP) - A black box recovered from the scene and pulverized pieces of debris strewn across Alpine mountainsides held clues to what caused a German jetliner to take an unexplained eight-minute dive Tuesday midway through a flight from Spain to Germany, apparently killing all 150 people on board.

The victims included two babies, two opera singers and 16 German high school students and their teachers returning from an exchange trip to Spain. It was the deadliest crash in France in decades.

The Airbus A320 operated by Germanwings, a budget subsidiary of Lufthansa, was less than an hour from landing in Duesseldorf on a flight from Barcelona when it unexpectedly went into a rapid descent. The pilots sent out no distress call and had lost radio contact with their control center, France’s aviation authority said, deepening the mystery.

While investigators searched through debris from Flight 9525 on steep and desolate slopes, families across Europe reeled with shock and grief. Sobbing relatives at both airports were led away by airport workers and crisis counselors.

“The site is a picture of horror. The grief of the families and friends is immeasurable,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after being flown over the crash scene. “We must now stand together. We are united in our great grief.”

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16 German 10th-grade students returning from exchange, 2 opera singers among crash victims

HALTERN, Germany (AP) - A stunned German town mourned 16 students who went down aboard Germanwings Flight 9525 on their way home Tuesday from a Spanish exchange, while the opera world grieved for two singers who were returning from performing in Barcelona - one of them with her baby.

“This is surely the blackest day in the history of our town,” a visibly shaken Mayor Bodo Klimpel said after the western town of Haltern was shocked by news that 16 students from the local high school and two teachers had been on the plane. They had just spent a week in Spain.

Some hugged, cried and laid flowers in front of the Joseph Koenig High School, where the 10th graders had studied, and lit candles on its steps.

“This is pretty much the worst thing you can imagine,” Klimpel said at a hastily called news conference.

An announcement was made to students Tuesday lunchtime that “that we were all free now but we shouldn’t be happy,” said Christopher Schweigmann, 16, a 10th-grade student who said he lost two good friends. Students went to a service Tuesday evening, and “everyone was in tears in the church,” he said.

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A $9 billion solution to Amtrak-truck crashes is years away, but common sense still required

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) - America’s railroads want five more years to stop train wrecks using a high-tech system costing more than $9 billion.

But experts tell The Associated Press that it won’t keep trains and trucks from crashing together unless both industries use a common-sense solution available right away: actually talking with each other before crossing into each other’s territory.

Plenty of fingers have been pointed since an Amtrak train slammed into a massive tractor-trailer in North Carolina this month, injuring 55 people.

No one warned the railroad beforehand that a huge truckload could be in the way.

But as it turns out, no one had to.

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Obama agrees to slow US pullout from Afghanistan, showcases better ties in meeting with Ghani

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama agreed Tuesday to slow the U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan at the request of its new government but insisted the delay won’t jeopardize his commitment to end America’s longest war before leaving office.

In a shift from his previous plan, Obama said the U.S. would leave its 9,800 troops currently in Afghanistan in place rather than downsizing to 5,500 by year’s end. The size of the U.S. footprint for next year is still to be decided, he said, but he brushed aside any speculation the withdrawal will bleed into 2017 when the next president takes over.

“The date for us to have completed our drawdown will not change,” Obama declared.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s inaugural visit to the White House offered a stark contrast to visits by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, who was viewed by U.S. officials as prickly and unreliable. Ghani went out of his way to thank the U.S. for its sacrifices in his country, offering a window into the efforts by Obama and him to rehabilitate the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

“This visit is an opportunity to begin a new chapter between our two nations,” Obama said during a joint news conference in the East Room.

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Investigation: No. 2 official at Homeland Security used post to influence Democratic projects

WASHINGTON (AP) - The No. 2 official at the Homeland Security Department improperly intervened on behalf of foreign investors seeking U.S. visas in three cases involving prominent Democrats, including a company run by the youngest brother of likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, the agency’s inspector general said Tuesday.

Investigators said Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas helped efforts to secure the visas in ways that created the appearance of favoritism and special access and caused resentment among career government employees, managers and lawyers.

The agency’s inspector general, John Roth, said he could not suggest a motive for Mayorkas, a longtime Democrat who served on President Barack Obama’s transition team after his 2008 election and was U.S. attorney in California under President Bill Clinton. Roth did not accuse Mayorkas of violating any laws and acknowledged that Mayorkas sometimes declined to become involved in cases because he said he did not think it would be appropriate.

Mayorkas, who at the time was head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in a statement that he disagreed with the inspector general’s findings but that “I will certainly learn from it and from this process.”

Mayorkas added: “There was erroneous decision-making and insufficient security vetting of cases. I could not and did not turn my back on my responsibility to address those grave problems. I made improving the program a priority and I did so in a hands-on manner.”

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Obamacare critic Ted Cruz could buy health care for family through law he vows to scrap

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. Ted Cruz could soon be buying his family’s health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act, a law the Republican presidential candidate has vowed to repeal should he win the White House.

Cruz formally launched his presidential campaign on Monday, and his wife, Heidi Cruz, began an unpaid leave of absence from her job as a managing director in the Houston office of Goldman Sachs. That meant the family would soon lose access to health insurance through Mrs. Cruz’s job, triggering a need for the Cruz family to find a new policy.

The first-term senator from Texas said he is looking at options available on a health insurance exchange, or a clearinghouse of policies available to Americans who don’t receive coverage through their employers. The Democrats’ health care law, also known as Obamacare, created the exchange system.

Under an amendment to the law crafted by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the government can only offer members of Congress and their staff health care insurance that’s sold through an exchange.

“We will presumably go on the exchange and sign up for health care, and we’re in the process of transitioning over to do that,” Cruz said in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

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‘Mad Men’ star Jon Hamm undergoes alcohol addiction treatment, actor’s spokeswoman says

LOS ANGELES (AP) - “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm recently completed treatment for alcohol addiction, his spokeswoman said.

Hamm had the support of his longtime partner, actress-filmmaker Jennifer Westfeldt, in his struggle, publicist Annett Wolf said in a statement Tuesday.

The couple have asked “for privacy and sensitivity going forward,” the statement said. No further details were provided.

The disclosure, first reported by TMZ, came as the final season of the 1960s-set drama begins April 5 on AMC.

The 43-year-old Hamm plays Don Draper, a troubled advertising executive with a dark past. The role brought him stardom and repeated Emmy Award nominations.


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