When We Squander Human Capital: Burmese dreams, foreign charter vessels and inspirational determination

cropped-yellow-fin-tuna-school3

The subjects of this blog are marine resource management and marine environmental management; however sometimes there are stories that are tenuously connected to the above subjects are I am compelled to share – one of those is the human capital on-board foreign charter vessels (FCVs). Here is a story published in last week’s Southland Times (19 Feb 2013) that is the ultimate human story of adversity, determination and achievement.

Map showing the route  between Bluff and Lyttleton that Ye Aung should have taken in 2006. The distance between Bluff and Lyttelton is 602.6 km (a trip that would take about  7 hours in a car)

Map showing the route between Bluff and Lyttelton that Ye Aung should have taken in 2006. The distance between Bluff and Lyttelton is 602.6 km (a trip that would take about 7 hours in a car)

The article in the Southland times by Collette Devlin “Burmese fishing ‘slave’ seeks his saviours” outlines the story of Ye Aung (a Burmese fishing crewman) who jumped ship at the Southland port town of Bluff in 2006, as a response to what he alleges was “slave-like treatment” on board a korean foreign charter fishing vessel. Ye Aung decided that we would walk north to Lyttleton (where he understood he could receive help). What Ye Aung didn’t know, was that the South Island of New Zealand was not a small Island as he believed, but rather a large one; furthermore Lyttleton (the Port town of Christchurch) although only half way up the long and slender South Island, was still 603km away to the North.

A Map of Southland, New Zealand. The blue circles show Bluff (the port town where Ye Aung disembarked for Lyttleton (602.6 km to the north)) and Eastern Bush (the rural  area where Ye Aung  came to rest for a night before travelling on to Lyttleton). The blue line is the suggested route Ye Aung  took (110km on foot).

A Map of Southland, New Zealand. The blue circles show Bluff (the port town where Ye Aung disembarked for Lyttelton (602.6 km to the north)) and Eastern Bush (the rural area where Ye Aung came to rest for a night before travelling on to Lyttelton). The blue line is the suggested route Ye Aung took (110km on foot).

Geographically oblivious to the undertaking before him Ye Aung decided that he would make the trip on foot. Unfortunately Ye Aung, armed witout a map, any understanding of New Zealand Geography or any provisions headed North-West instead of North-East and the rest is a story as told by Collette Devlin:]

A Burmese man who escaped from a Korean fishing boat when it arrived in Bluff six years ago is searching for Southlanders he says saved his life after giving him shelter.

[…]

“I didn’t know where I was going, so I kept walking and followed the train tracks. . .  I thought New Zealand was only a small island,” he said. “It was too cold to sleep outside, so he kept walking to stay warm.”

After ripping a map from a public phone book in Invercargill, he wandered for days in a direction he thought would take him to Lyttelton.”By the third night, I was so cold, wet from the rain, hungry, lost and desperate for help. I saw a dead end and knew I was lost.”

He stumbled on a house, near a no exit sign, and in the darkness, he hoped someone was home. A man, who he believes was called Steve, answered the door and thought he was trying to rob the house. “He was wondering. . .  why I was there so late at night. I don’t blame him for being wary of a stranger”.

Mr Aung told the man and his wife about his escape and his plan to walk to Lyttelton. The couple gave him coffee, toast and made a bed for him on the couch. They explained the distance he had to travel and told him he was at Eastern Bush. The next morning they drove Mr Aung to a place he thinks was Invercargill, where he hitched a lift in a car, he said. The woman had given Mr Aung some apples for the journey and a map of the South Island, which he still has.

Mr Aung eventually made his way to Auckland where he said in August 2006 he made a complaint to the Department of Labour about his treatment on the boat. He was granted asylum and gained permanent residency in 2008.

He was now working as an apprentice mechanic in Auckland and has applied for citizenship. He said he has never forgotten the kindness shown him by the couple who gave him shelter. Now that he had finished studying, Mr Aung would return to Southland next month for the first time since that night.

They took a stranger into their home in the middle of the night. I would have not survived another night in the cold. I want to thank them for saving me.

Ye Aung 

An article published in the New Zealand Herald in 2007 (6 October) shows that Ye Aungs ship-jump occured 7 years ago. The Article “Ready to rebuild a country” by Jade Reidy, is pitched at the rebuilding of Burma rather than on working conditions on-board FCVs (as they have been of late). However this article does provide some context and a timeline for Ye Aung’s oddyesy.

When Ye Aung jumped ship off a Korean fishing trawler in Bluff last year [2006], he was saying “no” a second time to intolerable conditions. His first act of resistance had been to leave Myanmar, a country lacking human rights and opportunities. […]

“My Government doesn’t care about its people so nobody else cares about us either, you know. Our life has no value,” says Ye. “You take your country with you. I want to go back and be part of making a democratic country so we have human rights in the eyes of the world also.” Having obtained refugee status, 23-year-old Ye is living with six other young Burmese men in a West Auckland house and studying automotive engineering at Unitec, awaiting his chance. In Myanmar, his studies were severely limited by lack of resources, both material and human. Most of what he learned came out of ancient textbooks, left behind by professors long since gone abroad.

Well it seems like Ye Aung now 29-30 years old, is intent on giving back – starting with the Eastern Bush couple who gave him a meal and a bed all those years ago.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s