In 2011, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) received two complaints alleging that Step Up Marine Enterprise was illegally operating as an unlicensed employment agency and involved in trafficking activities.
The first complaint in May 2011 alleged that Step Up Marine had arranged for three Filipino nationals to be employed on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel, where they eventually were owed salaries and incurred monetary penalties for early termination of contract.
MOM investigated and found no evidence that Step Up Marine had operated as an unlicensed employment agency, finding that its “main role was to provide temporary accommodation to the workers pending their boarding of the ships”.
“We established that the employment contracts of the three Filipino nationals in question were not signed in Singapore and their employment did not take place in Singapore,” stated MOM.
“Consequently, the alleged salary disputes were outside Singapore’s jurisdiction.”
MOM’s investigations into the trafficking allegation ascertained that Step Up Marine was not involved in the direct recruitment or placement of these workers in Singapore.
“We could not investigate allegations of trafficking activities taking place outside of Singapore because we did not have the legal powers to investigate extra-territorial acts in 2011.”
“There were never allegations of demands for sexual favours, or unsanitary and crammed housing conditions,” it added.
“Hence, when the brother of Eril Andrade came to us in November 2011 with essentially the same charges of Step Up Marine’s involvement in trafficking activities, we did not open up fresh investigations since the complaints were already looked into earlier and found to be unsubstantiated.”
Nevertheless, MOM expressed concern about allegations of trafficking through Singapore.
In January 2014, MOM, in collaboration with the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union, various Seafarer missions, and the Migrant Workers’ Centre, set up a Seafarers’ Welfare Centre (SWC) at Jurong Fishery Port.
The SWC provides distressed fishermen with shelter and access to assistance from the relevant authorities and civil society organisations.
Since its establishment, two cases involving seafarers in distress have been assisted through the SWC. None of these were found to involve trafficking.
Singapore further sought to strengthen its legislation against human trafficking with the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act coming into force in March 2015.
With this new legislation, Singapore now has the powers to investigate cases of exploitation both locally and overseas if persons are trafficked to, or through, Singapore.