BANGKOK — Two Thai men described as key figures in a human trafficking ring that provides slave crews for fishing boats were arrested as new regulations aimed at cracking down on illegal fishing took effect, officials said Wednesday.
The two suspects were the latest to be arrested after an Associated Press investigation into slavery in Southeast Asia’s fishing industry.
In April, the European Union gave Thailand six months to drastically combat illegal and unregulated fishing or face a seafood import ban. Thailand is a major exporter of seafood, with yearly revenues of almost $5.4 billion, and an EU ban would seriously affect the industry.
Officials from Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation told a news conference the two men were ‘‘big figures’’ in a human trafficking syndicate in Samut Sakorn province, the country’s biggest fishing hub, and had lured about 60 victims a year since 2008.
Chayuthphong Charoenporn, 50, and Samruay Chatkrod, 53, allegedly hired middlemen to find workers at train stations, bus terminals, and other public places, said Lieutenant Colonel Komvich Padhanarath.
He said the middlemen would approach men who looked poor and ask them if they wanted jobs, then take them to a shelter where they were sometimes drugged or given alcohol to keep quiet — and then sold to boat owners for about $900 per man. The laborers were then taken without their consent to fishing boats near Ambon island in Indonesia, he said.
‘‘These two illegal brokers are quite big figures,’’ said Paisith Sungkahapong, director of the human trafficking division at the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s equivalent of the FBI. He said they admitted to human trafficking but denied the charges of arbitrary detention.
Also Wednesday, the Thai government’s new Fisheries Act took effect. The law was drafted to improve official oversight and impose stricter measures to prevent illegal practices in the Thai fishing industry.