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Arts | Culture

Review: ‘Ghost Fleet’ shows slavery on the seas

Patima Tungpuchayakul in a scene from “Ghost Fleet.” Credit:
Patima Tungpuchayakul in a scene from “Ghost Fleet.”
(Vulcan Productions/Abramorama)

Thai fishing companies, hurt by their own indiscriminate excess, now illegally operate on foreign shores after depleting the supply at home. To satisfy the demands of their illicit business, these entities entice workers with false employment prospects and enslave them once they are in their grasp.

“Ghost Fleet,” a nonfiction work filmed across Southeast Asia by directors Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron (also the doc’s cinematographer), tackles the horrors of the modern slavery that corrodes the region’s billion dollar seafood industry with a humanistic gaze.

The directing duo follow the staunch Patima Tungpuchayakul, co-founder of an organization, LPN (Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation), dedicated to rescuing these men who’ve been tortured, drugged, mutilated, and kept at sea for years, even decades, as disposable labor. Although she is the guiding force of the piece, her portrayal rings undeveloped.

Alternating between testimonials from escapees who’ve relocated to Indonesia and breathtaking vistas courtesy of Waldron, the film relies on its subject’s inherent pathos to deliver genuinely affecting moments: long-awaited family reunions, or the men’s realization that they’ve forgotten their native tongue over the course of their real-life nightmare.

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Being so single-mindedly focused on human suffering, the doc fails to dive deeper into the environmental consequences, the political stances of the countries where these activities occur, or even the intricacies of the Thai judicial system, which on occasion grants financial compensation to victims who can provide witnesses.

Statistics displayed in its final frames offer some answers to these basic inquiries but little context, leaving one wishing for a more holistically constructed view on the issue.
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‘Ghost Fleet’

In Thai and English, with English subtitles

Rating: Not rated

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When: Opens Friday

Where: Landmark Hillcrest

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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