Darwin man charged with forced labour and servitude offences, victims rescued

A Darwin man is scheduled to appear in the Darwin Magistrates Court today (22 December, 2023) after the AFP charged him for allegedly recruiting crew to work on his fishing boat through deceptive online advertisements and holding them against their will.

An investigation was commenced by the AFP in August this year, after information was received from Queensland Police regarding two alleged victims rescued from a fishing vessel.

Investigations revealed the man allegedly posted job advertisements on Gumtree for deckhands and coxswains.

A number of additional alleged victims have been identified by police, who reported that once onboard, the man allegedly made them work without pay, mistreated and threatened them, and denied them the chance to leave the boat. This allegedly included providing his victims with minimal food and water, making them work extensive hours with little sleep, subjecting them to cruel and degrading treatment and threatening to throw them overboard into dangerous conditions.

One victim allegedly jumped from the man’s vessel in the middle of the night in crocodile infested waters in order to escape.

On 19 December, 2023, Police received a distress call in regards to a person onboard the man’s vessel, who claimed they had been starved and threated to be thrown overboard.

On 20 December, 2023, AFP and NT Police located the vessel in the Arafura Sea, where the man was arrested. The victim was allegedly located in a malnourished state and rescued from the vessel.

AFP and NT Police later executed search warrants on the vessel and the man’s home in Humpty Doo, where a number of electronic and physical items were seized. These items will be subject to further forensic examination.

The man, 47, was charged with the following offences:

  • Causing a person to enter or remain in forced labour, contrary to section 270.6A(1) Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);
  • Causing a person to enter or remain in servitude, contrary to section 270.5(1) Criminal Code 1995 (Cth); and
  • Deceptive recruiting for labour or services, contrary to section 270.7 Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for the second charge.

AFP Detective Acting Superintendent Mary Bolton said there was a common misconception that modern slavery and forced labour did not occur in Australia.

“Forced labour, and human trafficking more broadly, continues to be a significant issue in Australia. Our officers work tirelessly to combat these crimes, but we also need people to be courageous and come forward and to report instances of this type of crime,” Det Acting Supt Bolton said.

“In this particular case, we are investigating allegations this man had been offending for the past 20 years.

“We are seeking to identify further victims if this is true, and we are urging anyone who has been through this experience, or knows someone who has, to please come forward and report it to police.

“The AFP has a victim-centric approach, meaning the wellbeing and safety of our victims will always be our number one priority.”

A list of signs to identify potential human trafficking and slavery in Australia are available.

If you suspect that you or another person is experiencing, or at risk of, modern slavery or human trafficking, call 131 AFP (237) or use the AFP’s confidential online form. If you have immediate concerns for your safety, the safety of another person, or there is an emergency, dial Triple Zero (000).

The Support for Trafficked People Program is a key component of Australia’s response to support victims of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, and is delivered nationally by the Australian Red Cross.

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