Film Review: ‘Ghost Fleet’

Variety | 2/16/2019 | Alissa Simon
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The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage of rescue missions run by LPN, the final product, while impressive, sparks more questions than it answers. Producer/co-director Shannon Service was part of a reporting duo that broke the story of slavery on Thai fishing boats on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” in 2012. Cinematographer/co-director Jeffrey Waldron contributes striking visuals for the testimony and recreations that sit uneasily alongside the unadorned documentary footage of the LPN team at work.

Thailand’s seafood industry is one of the largest in the world, but decades of illegal and unregulated fishing has forced boats to travel farther from Thai shores to find fish. As local fishermen have refused to be at sea for months, some companies have taken extreme measures to solve their labor shortage, paying human traffickers for duped or kidnapped workers from rural Thailand or impoverished neighboring countries like Myanmar and Cambodia. These unfortunate men have been kept at sea in slave-like conditions, brutalized by those in charge, fed amphetamines so they could work around the clock and rarely brought near land. Instead, the catch from their boat was picked up by a mother ship that also dropped off food for the crew.

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Some of the men escaped by jumping overboard in remote Indonesian waters and making their way to land. Some of the escapees were caught by the fishing companies and left to languish in squalid private prisons while others managed to hide in the forest. Eventually, some of the men formed...
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