Directed by Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron, the film delves into Thailand’s fishing industry and its nearly 4,000 slaves who are starved and held in cages at sea.
Paul Allen’s Vulcan Prods. has signed on to produce the new feature documentary Ghost Fleet, which chronicles the global human trafficking network of fishing slaves that serves the global seafood market.
Directed by Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron, the film delves into Thailand’s fishing industry, which supplies a large portion of the world’s seafood. The country’s giant fishing fleet is chronically short of up to 60,000 fishermen per year, leaving captains scrambling to find crew. Human traffickers have seized upon the labor shortage, selling captives from Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and across Southeast Asia for a few hundred dollars each. Once at sea, the men often go months, or even years, without setting foot on land. Beaten, starved and held in cages, men are forced to work for little or no pay. As many as 4,000 slaves currently work in the Thailand’s seafood industry. The food winds up in the supply chains of corporate food giants and ends up in American stores as pet food, fresh and frozen fish and shrimp.
Ghost Fleet features the stories of Patima Thungprachayakul, a Thai abolitionist who has committed her life to helping victims and bringing perpetrators to justice, and Tun Lin, who was enslaved for many years but narrowly managed to escape. Service and Waldron shot footage in remote Indonesian islands where captains stash their slaves and the jungles of West Papua where escaped men eke out their survival.
Allen joins U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Julia Ormond, Louis Psihoyos (The Cove), Geralyn Dreyfous, Shannon Joy and Shari Sant Plummer as executive producers. Ghost Fleet is currently in production and slated for completion in the spring.
“Illegal, unregulated fishing on a massive global scale is not only causing the collapse of critical marine ecosystems, it has also created a large-scale human rights crisis for many Southeast Asian countries,” said Carole Tomko, general manager of Vulcan Prods. “This film has the potential to be an effective tool for combating both this human rights crisis and the environmental crisis faced by our oceans. Vulcan is working on solutions that could be used to target ships that employ slave labor.”
Added producer Jon Bowermaster: “Ghost Fleet will be the first film to link ocean conservation and human trafficking and will open the world’s eyes to a horrific and growing problem. As our one ocean continues to be overfished, some companies looking to cut costs have decided that enslaving workers without pay is somehow OK. With its far-reaching work in ocean conservation, Vulcan is the perfect producing partner for us as filmmakers who want to bring global attention to this urgent story.”
Through his philanthropic efforts, Microsoft co-founder Allen has been backing numerous causes that fight marine ecosystem degradation, which is a byproduct of overfishing. As a film financier, he gravitates toward subjects that can spark social change, including Racing Extinction, Oscar-nominated Body Team 12 and this year’s Sundance Special Jury Award-winner Step.
Service is an investigative reporter and producer, who broke the story about slavery on Thai fishing boats in 2012 for NPR’s Morning Edition and recently won an Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting. Waldron is a veteran cinematographer, whose credits include the Netflix series Dear White People and the film Transpecos.