AP investigation: Men forced to work as slaves to catch seafood for global supply
BENJINA, Indonesia (AP) — The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage, hidden on a tiny tropical island thousands of miles from home.
Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States.
Here, in the Indonesian island village of Benjina and the surrounding waters, hundreds of trapped men represent one of the most desperate links criss-crossing between companies and countries in the seafood industry. This intricate web of connections separates the fish we eat from the men who catch it, and obscures a brutal truth: Your seafood may come from slaves.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Associated Press notified the International Organization for Migration about men in this story, who were then moved out of Benjina by police for their safety. Hundreds of slaves remain on the island, and five other men were in the cage this week.
AP tracked the supply chain of slave caught fish to top US retailers
A year-long investigation into forced labor and trafficking in Southeast Asia's fishing industry led an Associated Press team to Benjina, a small town that straddles two islands in the far reaches of eastern Indonesia. There journalists interviewed more than 40 current and former slaves, many of whom said they had been forced to work on boats overseen by Thai captains under extremely brutal conditions. They were paid little or nothing at all, and some were out to sea for months or years at a time.
The AP also found a locked cell with eight slaves inside, and handed a video camera to a dockworker, himself a former slave, to take close-up footage. Under the cover of darkness, the AP team used a small wooden boat to approach a trawler with slaves who yelled to them, pleading for help to go home.
Reporters were led to a jungle-covered graveyard that held the bodies of slaves, according to villagers and nonprofit officials. They interviewed three men who said they had escaped into the island's jungle interior, and also spent a night sleeping in the forest on an adjacent island with other runaway slaves from Benjina.
The AP watched slave-caught fish being loaded onto a refrigerated cargo ship bound for Thailand. They tracked the reefer's 15-day journey using satellite signals and met the vessel in Samut Sakhon, Thailand, where they saw the seafood unloaded into dozens of trucks over four nights. The journalists followed the rigs to processing factories, cold storage facilities and Thailand's largest wholesale fish market.
The AP then worked to establish a chain, using U.S. Customs documents showing Thai companies that export to the U.S. The food goes to Europe and Asia as well as the U.S., but the AP was able to gather most information on specific companies in America, where custom records are public.
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1. SLAVE LABOR IN FISHING INDUSTRY EXPOSED
Modern-day Burmese slaves in an Indonesian village reveal to the AP the harsh conditions they live in. A brutal truth emerges: your seafood may come from slaves.
The Latest: German students grieve classmates killed in plane crash
10:10 a.m. (0910 GMT, 5:10 a.m. EDT)
Students at the main high school in the western German town of Haltern are gathering by an ever-growing memorial of candles and flowers, weeping and hugging as they mourn the loss of 16 classmates and two teachers who died in a crash in the French Alps.
Fourteen-year-old Lara Beer says her best friend, Paula, was aboard the aircraft.
Wiping tears from her eyes, she says she was waiting for the train her friend was supposed to be on, but went home when she saw Paula wasn't on it.
She says: "That's when my parents told me Paula was dead."
Damaged black box, crucial 2 minutes are key clues to jet crash in French Alps that killed 150
SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France (AP) — A cockpit voice recorder badly damaged when a German jetliner slammed into an Alpine mountainside and a crucial two-minute span when the pilot lost contact offer vital clues into the crash's cause, officials said Wednesday.
All 150 people on board were killed in Tuesday's crash of the Germanwings Airbus 320 in the southern French Alps.
Helicopters surveying the scattered debris lifted off at daybreak, hours ahead of the expected arrival of bereaved families and the French, German and Spanish leaders. The flight from Spain to Germany went into an unexplained eight-minute dive before crashing.
Crews were making their way slowly to the remote crash site through fresh snow and rain, threading their way to the craggy ravine. On Tuesday, the cockpit voice recorder was retrieved from the site, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
"The black box is damaged and must be reconstituted in the coming hours in order to be useable," Cazeneuve told RTL radio.
Officials tell AP that Yemen's embattled president has fled Aden home as Shiite rebels near
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's embattled president fled his palace in Aden for an undisclosed location Wednesday as Shiite rebels neared his last refugee, five officials told The Associated Press.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left just hours after the rebels' own television station said they seized an air base where U.S. troops and Europeans advised the country in its fight against al-Qaida militants. That air base is only 60 kilometers (35 miles) away from Aden, the port city where Hadi had established a temporary capital.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists. Witnesses said they saw a convoy of presidential vehicles Wednesday leaving Hadi's palace, located at the top of a hill in Aden overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Forces loyal to Hadi had no immediate comment. U.S. and European advisers fled the captured air base days ago after al-Qaida fighters briefly seized a nearby city.
The advance of the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, threatens to plunge the Arab world's poorest country into a civil war that could draw in its Gulf neighbors. Already, Hadi has asked the United Nations to authorize a foreign military intervention in the country.
Afghan president expected to get warm welcome when he speaks to joint meeting of Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is untested as a leader, yet he is expected to get a warm reception from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The reason: He's not former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The White House said Ghani's speech Wednesday to a joint meeting of Congress is an opportunity to mark a new chapter in U.S.-Afghanistan relations, which were strained by acrimony between President Barack Obama and Karzai.
Lawmakers have been critical about U.S. troop involvement in America's longest war, wasteful spending in Afghanistan and Karzai's anti-American rhetoric.
Toward the end of his tenure, Karzai did not think the U.S. was holding Afghanistan's interests front and center. He repeatedly railed against the thousands of civilians being killed and said the war against terrorists should not be fought in the villages of his country. U.S. officials and lawmakers did not think Karzai's comments were appropriate given that 2,200 U.S. servicemen and women had been killed and billions of U.S. tax dollars had been spent during the conflict.
Still, despite being weary of war, lawmakers from both parties praised the White House announcement Tuesday to slow the pace of the U.S. troop withdrawal.
AP sources: Military raises concern over easing ban on transgender people serving in military
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter has gotten pushback from senior military leaders on whether the Pentagon should lift its ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces, according to U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.
Carter initially told troops in Afghanistan that he was open-minded when asked if the Defense Department was planning to remove one of the last gender- or sexuality-based barriers to military service. But defense officials said members of his top brass told Carter that they had serious reservations.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Military officials are reluctant to publicly discuss their opposition, but much of it centers on questions about where transgender troops would be housed, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use, and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together.
There also are questions about whether the military would conduct or pay for the medical treatment and costs associated with any gender transition, as well as which physical training standards they would be required to meet.
Offering glimpses of the Prophet Muhammad, Iranian film latest to test taboo on depicting him
ALLAHYAR, Iran (AP) — Here in this Persian replica of Mecca, built at the cost of millions of dollars, an Iranian film company is attempting to offer the world a literal glimpse of the Prophet Muhammad despite traditional taboos against it.
The movie "Muhammad, Messenger of God" already recalls the grandeur — and expense — of a Cecil B. DeMille film, with the narrow alleyways and a replica Kaaba shrine built here in the remote village of Allahyar. But by even showing the back of the Prophet Muhammad as a child before he was called upon by Allah, the most expensive film in Iranian history already has been criticized before its even widely released, calling into question who ultimately will see the Quranic story come to life on the big screen.
"How should we introduce our prophet?" asked Majid Majidi, the film's director. "Many relay their messages to the world through cinema and pictures."
In American cinematic history, films involving the Bible often find the biggest audience and box office returns. Biblical stories have inspired dozens of films from the 1920s all the way to recent blockbusters like "Noah" starring Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott's biblical epic "Exodus: Gods and Kings."
But in Islam, portraying the Prophet Muhammad has long been taboo for many. Islamic tradition is full of written descriptions of Muhammad and his qualities — describing him as the ideal human being. But clerics generally have agreed that trying to depict that ideal is forbidden. The Paris terror attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people in January, saw gunmen target it over its caricature of the prophet.
Seasonal employees: Baseball careers often start with winter grunt work to pay the bills
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Long before any of that major league money starts landing in their bank accounts, most players are in a similar predicament as everyone else in the regular workforce.
Between baseball seasons there are no paychecks and bills don't stop for the winter. So they need to find some other income.
"Especially the guys who got picked in the 10th round and above," Minnesota Twins reliever Casey Fien said. "I signed for $500 and a plane ticket. So I had to go out and earn my money."
He went to Costco.
The right arm that would eventually fetch Fien a $1.38 million salary from the Twins for 2015 was once used for stacking crates, pallets and boxes at the bulk retail giant's location in San Luis Obispo, California. Drafted in the 20th round in 2006 by Detroit, Fien showed up for five-hour night shifts at the store during his offseasons until making his major league debut in 2009 with the Tigers.