Free Beer & Sex by Mike Dixon - HTML preview

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8 Jobs on trawlers


One day a glossy poster landed in the hostel letterbox.  It arrived in a cardboard cylinder with a note asking me to display it in the female toilets.  This sort of request generally referred to sexually transmitted diseases and came from the Department of Health.  On this occasion, it was from the Department of Transport.

I wasn't totally surprised.  As a former government officer, I knew that government departments are forever muscling in on one another's territory.  Communicable diseases are transported and that was probably how the transport people got in on the act.  I unfurled the poster and found that my suspicions were unjustified.


A banner headline yelled at me from above a picture of a young woman cowering on the deck of a boat.

No one will come to your aid!

Other words spelt out the horror of her situation.

It was a warning about jobs on trawlers.

I've had friends who owned trawlers.  I got to know them when they cashed in their fishing licences and switched to dive boats.  Their behaviour was always impeccable.  Sadly, the same cannot be said for everyone who goes to sea to catch fish.  The Department of Transport knew there was a serious problem and acted responsibly.

Girls were being raped!

I encountered two incidents in which young women took jobs on trawlers (as cooks) and regretted it.  One swam across to a boat on which I was working as a divemaster.  The other returned to my hostel in a state of distress.

And it's not just the girls who are at risk.  Guys are vulnerable too ... usually in a different way.  Imagine you hear about this great fishing job.  You can go to sea, get free food and board and have a share in the profits when the catch is sold.  The guy who owns the boat said you'd have an awesome time and get rich in the process.  It sounds too good to miss.  But is it?

First, there's the risk you won't be paid.  Working on a trawler is not a fun job and you'll feel more than a little upset if you find your boat had vanished into the great blue yonder when you go to collect your money.  As one guy said when booking back into my hostel: "All I got from two weeks at sea was fish-handlers' disease and a badly cut arm.".  He was particularly vulnerable because he'd been working without a visa.  That can get you deported so there was no question of going to the police.  Unscrupulous operators know that.

Second, there's the risk you won't get along with your new mates.  There are many tales of crewmembers jumping ship or being abandoned.  One poor fellow was rescued by a friend of mine who has a cattle ranch in the northern gulf country (Carpentaria).  He found the man up a tree surrounded by dingoes.  The guy could have died of thirst or been torn to pieces by the dogs.