By CALEB JONES, The Associated Press
HONOLULU — The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday it found a foreign worker acting as the captain of an American-flagged commercial fishing vessel in federal waters off Hawaii.
The crew of the U.S. Cutter Oliver Berry boarded the unnamed vessel on Dec. 19 and issued a citation after they suspected a foreign national was acting as the captain and operating the boat, the Coast Guard said in a statement .
It’s illegal for a foreign national to operate a U.S.-flagged commercial vessel.
The Coast Guard said the vessel was cited for a violation known as a “paper captain.” The Coast Guard Hearing Office will review the violation and consider further legal action.
Officials boarded a total of six Hawaii-based commercial fishing vessels during a 10-day patrol. They issued eight violations.
A 2016 Associated Press investigation revealed the Hawaii fleet operates under a loophole in federal law that allows owners to use foreign laborers with no U.S. visas to work in the fleet.
While most U.S. fishing fleets are required to have 75 percent U.S. citizens as crews, the Pacific boats that target highly migratory species like tuna are allowed to have only one American, the captain, aboard.
Most boats in the fleet have crews of foreign workers who are confined to their boats for the duration of their contracts, often for a year or two at a time.
Because they have no visas, the men are not allowed to enter the U.S. and have no protection under U.S. labor laws.
The workers, mostly from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations, are generally paid a fraction of what other U.S. commercial fishing crews make, some receiving as little as 70 cents an hour while working up to 20 hours a day.
The AP investigation uncovered instances of abuse, disease and allegations of human trafficking. Two Indonesian fishermen were granted special U.S. visas as victims of human trafficking after they escaped a boat when it was docked in San Francisco in 2010.
The two filed a civil lawsuit against the owner of that vessel last year.
The AP also found that Hawaii authorities may have been violating their own state law for years by issuing commercial fishing licenses to the foreign workers. Hawaii law requires that anyone receiving a commercial fishing permit be legally admitted to the U.S.
Since the foreign men have no visas, U.S. Customs officials stamp their landing permits “refused” and they are forbidden from coming ashore.