The Biden administration on Friday announced sanctions against a Chinese company listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, saying Pingtan Marine Enterprises Ltd. engaged in “illegal, unreported and unregulated” fishing that contributing to grave human rights abuses.
Pingtan was one of two companies hit with U.S. sanctions, along with two business officials.
The Treasury Department also named 157 fishing vessels that sail under the flag of the People’s Republic of China that are associated with the sanctioned companies and individuals.
“Treasury condemns the practices of those sanctioned today, which often involve the abuse of human rights, undermine fundamental labor and environmental standards, and harm the economic prospects of local populations in the Indo-Pacific,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement.
Treasury laid out a series of allegations, including that one of the sanctioned companies was involved in illegal shark finning, taking nearly 1,550 lbs. of fins, including from endangered sharks.
Pingtan specifically received a $19 million subsidy from the Chinese government in 2021 to develop its deep water fishing industry “to satisfy China’s demand for seafood,” Treasury said.
Vessels with the company were found to have illegally transshipped 6,600 shark carcasses, including from endangered species, through the protected waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, Treasury said.
Treasury described the working conditions for crew on the vessels as miserable, with extreme isolation and reports of physical violence and forced labor.
“In one case, after crewmembers reportedly contacted their families for the first time in seven months and learned they had not been paid, a crewmember’s request to leave the ship was denied and food was withheld for three days,” Treasury wrote.
“Crews that had completed their contracts, but who were forced to continue working for months in light of COVID restrictions, learned only later that they were never paid at all,” it continued.
“Still others reported physical abuse. On another ship, a grossly negligent response to an accident contributed to the death of a crewmember after it took over two weeks to get the seriously injured crewmember to see a doctor aboard another ship,” Treasury said. “In another case, crewmembers on one ship only learned of the global pandemic in May 2020, after they arrived in port for the first time in over a year.”
Conditions for ship workers were described as cruel, with workers forced to stay on vessels for 13 months without a port visit, working 18 hours and “living off expired food and brown desalinated seawater.”
Treasury said one ship, operating under the Dalian Ocean Fishing Co. (DOF), the other company sanctioned, saw five crew members die, with three bodies being dumped into the ocean “rather than repatriated home.”
“When the surviving crewmembers returned home, they were diagnosed with malnutrition and received only a fraction of their promised pay,” Treasury said. “They have since described deceptive recruiting practices, the confiscation of identity documents, punishing work, and physical abuse.”
Treasury also sanctioned Xinrong Zhuo, whom it identified as the founder and chairman of Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd., and Li Zhenyum, listed as the chairman and general manager of the DOF.
Treasury said that the DOF received $8 million annually in Chinese government subsidies that encouraged its distant water fishing.
The sanctions implications freeze assets in the U.S. of blacklisted individuals and companies and generally bar Americans from transacting with sanctioned entities.
The sanctions authority was provided by 2016’s Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which granted broad sanctions authority to the government to target individuals and companies over corruption that bled into human rights abuses.
The sanctions announced Friday are in line with a memorandum issued by President Biden that identified “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Associated Labor Abuses” as a threat to “U.S. economic competitiveness, national security and fishery sustainability.”
The Biden administration has identified outcompeting China as part of its strategy to combat the national security threats Beijing poses in its pursuit to overtake the U.S. in global influence and strength.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, responding to a question from Russian media before the U.S. sanctions were published, rejected that China is violating fishing regulations and said that China views such actions as interfering in its internal affairs and rejected the categorization of human rights abuses.
“The U.S. is in no position to impose unwarranted sanctions on other countries or act as a ‘world policeman.’ China will act resolutely to safeguard its lawful rights and interests,” Mao said.