Field notes of the port trip in Taiwan

Field notes of the port trip in Taiwan

Article by Aubrey Kandelila Fanani, Chang Wen-Chi, Jonathan Parhusip, and Qi Li

Abstract: Following the 2023 ACS Institute “De-colonization in the 21st Century”, the International Center for Cultural Studies (ICCS) organized a four-day excursion to southern Taiwan to investigate the port operation and the labor condition of Southeast Asian migrant workers in the Taiwanese distant water fishing industry. Scholars from migration and border studies, inter-Asia cultural studies, and critical legal studies, were invited to join the group.

Keywords: Taiwan, Distant Fishing Industry, Port, Indonesian Migrant Workers

Port of Kaohsiung & Roundtable at NSYSU

On August 15, the group visited the Kaohsiung Port and had a meeting with officials from the Taiwan International Ports Corporation, the Port Authority of Kaohsiung, and the Kaohsiung Port Land Development Corporation.

As the largest port in Taiwan, Kaohsiung Port occupies 1,871 hectares of land and 15,865 hectares of water, owning 131 shipping lines. A Free Trade Zone (FTZ) is established at the Kaohsiung Port to accelerate customs clearance and tax exemption service and run the business of processing, labeling, packaging, and storage. Fishing ports in Kaohsiung and its surrounding areas, including Kaohsiung Port, Qianzhen Harbor, Cijin Harbor, Xiaogang Harbor, Tungkang Harbor, etc., live a large group of migrant fishers in Taiwan. According to the Ministry of Fisheries, the annual recruitment of foreign seafarers on Taiwanese fishing vessels is around 24,000 people. Indonesia and the Philippines are the two main labor suppliers, accounting for 70% and 20%, respectively, of the migrant fishers population in Taiwan.

Due to the two-tiered employment system for migrant fishers in Taiwanese fishery industries, only foreign fishers fishing in Taiwan territorial waters are protected under the Labor Standards Act. Foreign fishers in Taiwanese distant water fishing cannot be protected by the labor law. Under the insufficient labor regulation in the Act for Distant Water Fisheries, they are highly at risk of situations such as overwork, wage-withheld, abuse, forced labor, and human trafficking.

Regarding participants’ shared concerns about the labor conditions of migrant fishers and seafarers issue at the Kaohsiung Port, officials provide limited information either on statistics or on the working conditions. To further discuss the above problems on global fisheries and port logistics, on August 16, the group had a roundtable at National Sun Yat-Sen University (NSYSU). Poe Yu-ze Wan, editor-in-chief of Innovation in the Social Sciences and professor at Department of Sociology, NSYSU, moderated the roundtable. Colleagues from NSYSU, including Hung Shih-Chian and Tai Yuen Hung at Institute of Philosophy, Hsu Chia-Hao at Si Wan College, joined the roundtable.

The dialogue of the roundtable focused on recents works and research projects by Sandro Mezzadra (Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Bologna) and Brett Neilson (Professor at Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University) about global capitalism, port cities, logistics, refugee and migration studies, and their conceptual understandings on Marxism. Bernd Kasparek (Humboldt Unversity Berlin), Jonathan S. Parhusip (Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, NYCU), Joyce C.H. Liu (International Center for Cultural Studies, NYCU), Manuela Bojadžijev (Institute for European Ethnology and the Berlin Institute for Migration Research), Michiel Hoornick (Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies), Ned Rossiter (Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University), Ya-wen Yang (Institutum Iurisprudentiae, Academia Sinica), and Yu-fan Chiu (Law School, NYCU) proposed and offered detailed questioning framework on the global dynamics of capitalism and colonialism, governmentality over border and citizenship disputes, the political-economic structure of the 21st century, and the possibilities for conducting decolonization projects within contemporary contexts.

In the evening of August 16, Sandro Mezzadra gave a public talk on the topic “Abolitionist Vistas of the Human: Border Struggles, Migration, and Freedom of Movement” at Takao Books in Kaohsiung. In the talk, Sandro discussed the recent refugee crisis at the Mediterranean Sea and gave his analysis of such questions through an engagement with the issue of the ‘human’ inspired by black abolitionist thinkers. He also elaborated on the transformations of the maritime border regime in the Mediterranean, emphasizing the relevance of the stubbornness of migrants challenging that regime and examining emerging forms of border activism and the practices of solidarity they embody.

Stella Maris Kaohsiung

After the academic dialogue in the first two days, the group began to go deep into the migrant fishers communities and conduct field visits. On August 17, we visited the Stella Maris Kaohsiung and Qianzhen Fishing Port.

Father Trinh Nguyen from Stella Maris Kaohsiung introduced us to the mission of Stella Maris and the specific services they provide for migrant fishers and seafarers. Stella Maris was established in 1971 for the mission to cater to wearied American soldiers on duty break from the Vietnam War. Today, Stella Maris has a presence in various ports in 116 Countries, striving to serve millions of people involved in the shipping and fishing industries.

Father Trinh Nguyen gave an introductory talk about Stella Maris’s works and missions in Kaohsiung.

Following a change in the Taiwan government policy in 1992, migrant workers from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia were allowed to enter Taiwan and do limited types of work to compensate for the shortage of local workers. However, migrant workers are often at high risk of forced labor, especially if they don’t speak the local language. They are usually in debt to cover the recruitment fees in their home countries. Besides, they must work long hours on the narrow fishing vessels in the middle of the ocean.

It is hard for migrant fishers and seafarers from Southeast Asian countries to escape from their jobs, no matter how bad their working conditions are. They have no choice but to accept difficult tasks that most people are unwilling to take on. In 1999, responding to the increasing needs of the foreign population, especially in the ports of Kaohsiung and Pingtung area, Stella Maris expanded its service to reach out and provide social services to migrants, seafarers, fishers, and victims of human trafficking in Taiwan, regardless of religion, race, and ethnic background so that their material, human, legal, and spiritual welfare will be addressed and protected.

Stella Maris’ services for fishers include ship and port visits, identifications of forced labor and human trafficking cases, socialization, education, and spiritual accompaniment for fishers, organizing wellness and mental health activities, networking, and advocacy, as well as providing remedy and protection suggestions for fishers. For more than twenty years now, it has housed more than 2,100 migrant seafarers, some of whom are victims of human trafficking.

A group picture at Stella Maris Kaohsiung.

Qianzhen Fishing Port

Guided by Jonathan Parhusip, who has conducted research on the Indonesian migrant fishers communities for years, we visited Qianzhen Fishing Port.

Jonathan Parhusip guided the group to Qianzhen fishing port.

Taiwan has attracted international attention because of its pelagic fishing power, which ranks first in the world and generates an annual output value of approximately NT$40 billion. According to statistics from Greenpeace, a non-governmental environmental organization, “one out of every three pieces of tuna sashimi in the world comes from the Taiwanese fleet.” Such huge capacity is mainly concentrated in the Qianzhen fishing port.

The Qianzhen fishing port.

In addition to offshore fishing boats, Qianzhen Fishing Port mainly houses distant-water fishing boats from CT6 to CT8 (200 tons to 1,000 tons). Among the distant-water fishing vessels anchored at Qianzhen Port, besides Taiwanese fishing boats, there are also several vessels with flags of other countries. That could be a Flag of Convenience (FOC), a typical and common business model in the fishing industry. By registering the vessel in a specific country, owners can minimize taxation, regulatory oversight, financial disclosures, or mandatory property dispositions and are subject to such jurisdiction of the shipping country, thereby achieving cost-effectiveness in terms of business and taxation.

Tungkang Fishing Port

After spending time in Stella Maris and Qianzhen Port to discuss the precarity of migrant fishers and seafarers’ lives in Kaohsiung Port, on August 18, we visited An-Nur Mosque, Yanpu Harbor, and the Indonesian Seafarers Gathering Forum (FOSPI) basecamp in Pingtung County (around 48 kilometers from Kaohsiung), to witness another life-course of Indonesian fishers communities in Taiwan. Wu Ting-kuan, an art worker who is concerned and engaged in the community lives of the Indonesian fishers in Tungkang for a long time, shared the story about how Indonesian fishers negotiate and struggle to gain a decent life in Yanpu and Tungkang ports. ​​

Wu Ting-Kuan introduced the history of the An-Nur Mosque to the group.

An-Nur Mosque

An-Nur Mosque is one of the sites that have become an important part of the lives of Indonesian fishers in Tungkang. Owned and funded collectively, this mosque is the first mosque in Pingtung County and the largest mosque built by Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan. The mosque is a basic need for Indonesian fishers because the majority of them are Muslim. Organised through FOSPI (founded in 2006-2007), Indonesian fishers in Tungkang port initiated to build a mosque in Tungkang in mid-2007. Urged by the need to pray and study the Quran among the Muslim fishers, at first, the fishers rented a two-level building at 34-1 Fengyu Street in Tungkang City. Later, the building owner wanted to sell the building for NTD 4,000,000.

In 2014, after years of collecting donations, they eventually had enough money to buy the building, but the owner rejected them. Because of that, FOSPI looked for another place that was affordable and allowed to be converted as a mosque. In 2016, they found a three-level building in the front of the temple for a reasonable price (NTD 5,500,000). It took about two years to complete the mosque’s reconstruction until the day of its inauguration on February 18, 2018.

Fishermen used plastic mats to make decorative carvings for the An-Nur Mosque.

After leaving An-Nur Mosque, the group moved to Donglong Temple (originally built in 1706 in Yanpu, damaged by the flood in 1894, then relocated to Tungkang). In this place, the Wangye ship is constructed, and the ship is prepared for the Ying Wang festival, a local festival to worship Wen Wangye. The Ying Wang Festival is a triennial ceremony intended to banish the evil spirit and to celebrate peace and security. Not only the local communities, but the Southeast Asian migrant fishers also participated in a week-long parade and festivities. According to the fishers, this tradition is quite similar to the fishing tradition on the north coast of Java, Indonesia. Participating in Ying Wang Festival not only reminds the Indonesian migrant fishers of their hometown, but through this festival, they also expressed gratitude and hoped for abundant harvests and safety while working at sea.

Yanpu Fishing Port

At Yanpu Fishing Port, the group visited Indonesian and Filipino seafarers’ ex-Kampoa settlements. Migrant fishers established Kampoa settlements in 2012. After the forced demolition by the local government in late 2022, the settlement relocated to a new place. The old settlements were built in empty landfills near the harbor due to the lack of basic facilities for migrant fishers, including clean water, toilets, and a rest area.

Years after, the settlement became a small community. Migrant fishers grew mangoes, bananas, and other crops. These plants are still on the land. Every visitor who uses the place will put some money in a buoy (which transforms into a piggy bank) that hangs on the ceiling. The money is used to maintain that place and pay for the water and electricity. They also built their prayer room.

During our conversation, the fishers felt uncomfortable living in the new facilities because many CCTVs monitor them around the clock. The community leader said that the new facilities are fancier but also felt that they do not belong to the space.

A blue buoy in the old Kampoa settlement.

The Kampoa mosque before the forced demolition of the settlement.


FOSPI (Indonesian Seafarers Gathering Forum) was founded in 2006-2007 by 12 Indonesian organizations in Tungkang and currently has more than 2,300 members. FOSPI is committed to provide spiritual support and fight for the labor rights of Indonesian migrant communities in Tungkang, participating in the establishment of An-Nur Mosque, and assisting Indonesian fishers in foreign lands to deal with various labor disputes and policy advocacies.

In the FOSPI basecamp, Jonathan helped to bridge the dialogue between scholars and fishers. He began by introducing FOSPI: how FOSPI was established, the fight for the spaces in the port, and FOSPI’s involvement in the fight to have mandatory WiFi access in the vessel (for more information, please visit the Wi-Fi Now for Fishers’ Rights at Sea campaign page: Ang Wang, a migrant fisher, FOSPI treasurer and an artist, shared his experience of feeling displaced, isolated, and despair through the songs. Ang Wang stated the songs that he and his friends made were spontaneous expressions that came to kill boredom in the vessel and the port.

Ang Wang played his songs on the rooftop of the FOSPI building.

A group photo with FOSPI members.

2023 ACS Institute: Port Fieldtrip in Taiwan

Date: August 15-18, 2023
Location: Kaohsiung City and Pingtung County, Taiwan
Organizer: International Center for Cultural Studies, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University
Co-organizer: Innovation in the Social Sciences, College of Social Science, National Sun Yat-Sen University

Aubrey Fanani (Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Program, NYCU)
Bernd Kasparek (Humboldt Unversity Berlin)
Bonny Ling (Work Better Innovations)
Brett Neilson (Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University)
Chang Wen-Chi (Law School, NYCU)
Hsu Chia-Hao (Si Wan College, NSYSU)
Hung Shih-Chian (Institute of Philosophy, NSYSU)
Jonathan S. Parhusip (Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, NYCU)
Joyce C.H. Liu (International Center for Cultural Studies, NYCU)
Manuela Bojadžijev (Institute for European Ethnology and the Berlin Institute for Migration Research)
Michiel Hoornick (Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)
Ned Rossiter (Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University)
Poe Yu-ze Wan (Department of Sociology, NSYSU)
Qi Li (Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, NYCU)
Sandro Mezzadra (Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Bologna)
Tai Yuen Hung (Institute of Philosophy, NSYSU)
Wu Ting-Kuan (Independent researcher & curator)
Ya-wen Yang (Institutum Iurisprudentiae, Academia Sinica)
Yu-fan Chiu (Law School, NYCU)