and I though 8 month contracts were abusive

Globe and Mail's Mark Hume writes about a case of "slavery" at sea. Ok so the covering in fish blood and a throwing them overboard in shark infested waters is definitely abusive; the term slavery could widely be used on many vessels at sea on the world's oceans.

VANCOUVER — As the subject of a bet on whether sharks would attack him, Paulo Romero Cedeno was stripped naked, washed in fish blood and thrown into the ocean. There in the dark water, in the black of night, the young man heard the crew of the fishing vessel laughing at him. Then the captain snapped on a light and, after a few moments, dragged him aboard. He was later beaten by crew members who'd lost money betting he would die.

His younger brother, Cristhian Romero Cedeno, was subject to the same game -- as well as to rape. Both men were routinely beaten and forced to sleep on the open deck. Such was life aboard the Dolphin Free, a deep-sea fishing vessel from Ecuador that roamed the high seas -- visiting Samoa, Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Tahiti -- with the two brothers held against their will for about two years in what the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has described as a modern-day case of slavery at sea.

In granting the brothers refugee status, Immigration and Refugee Board panel member Fred Hitchcock stated that they sought asylum "due to persecution, torture and fear to their life from the owners of a vessel." Mr. Hitchcock, who described both claimants as "very credible and trustworthy," said they had been sold into what amounted to "almost slavery" by one of the vessel's owners, an aunt who is now believed to be in New Zealand. He ruled that the brothers, now working in the Vancouver-area construction industry, should not be sent home because they "have a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to return to Ecuador."

Mr. Hitchcock said the men could not count on state protection because their aunt had eluded an outstanding warrant in Ecuador. As further proof that they would not be safe in Ecuador, he noted the Cedenos' father and a brother were in hiding there, fearing retribution from the ship's owners, and that the brothers have turned to the UN International Court of Justice to press their claims for compensation from the aunt .

Rasik Shah and Jose Godoy Toku, immigration consultants who handled the Cedeno claim, said it is the most shocking case of its kind they have ever encountered. "I have no doubt that there are other cases like this on the high seas," Mr. Shah said. "But this is extreme." Sitting in Mr. Toku's office this week, their hands in their laps, eyes downcast, the Cedeno brothers tried to describe their ordeal. "It was horrible," said Cristhian, 21. "Horrible."

Paulo, 28, joined the vessel first, at the urging of his aunt, expecting to be paid about $10,000 a year. Cristhian joined later, saying that when his aunt sent him to New Zealand, he thought he would be going to school there. Instead, he was thrown aboard the Dolphin Free.

When asked what life was like aboard the ship, Paulo stammered out a few answers, then stopped. "These are ugly things I don't talk about," he said, speaking through Mr. Toku, who was translating. "We would wake at 3 a.m.," Cristhian said. "Actually we couldn't sleep. Up at 3 a.m. We grabbed the fishing line with our hands [to haul in the catch]. Then they would throw us into the freezer, just me and my brother, for hours at a time to stack the fish.

"When there were storms we would have to be out back holding the lines to see if the fish would gather. We would have to climb to the top of the vessel and stand there for hours to watch the ocean and see if there were fish. It was like this every day. It was 3 a.m. until midnight."

In a written statement he provided the Immigration and Refugee Board, Paulo described the shark-baiting game. "On or about June, 2002, after working for 16 hours non-stop, the captain and two Fijian crewmembers grabbed me. They took off my clothes and soaked me with fish blood. They started laughing at me. I begged for them to let me go. I felt terrorized. Suddenly the captain grabbed me and threw me to the ocean. I was screaming for help because I knew sharks could attack me. It was pitch black. I could not see anything. A few minutes or seconds (I just can't remember) later the captain pointed a light on me. . . . On the vessel again, the captain started collecting money from the other Fijian crew members. Apparently they had made a bet on my life."

Paulo said he begged to be released from the boat, but was refused. "I blocked out from my head all the pain and suffering," he wrote. "My body got used to torture. I was brain dead. I would cry at night and fall to sleep." When the Dolphin Free visited Vancouver, the brothers saw a chance to escape. Stealing their passports from the captain's cabin during a drinking party, they slipped over the side at the docks in Ladner and fled.

"You just had to look at them to know they were traumatized," said Mr. Toku, who saw them later that day after a Spanish-speaking woman they met in a mall told them where to seek help. The two brothers now share a dream, he said: "They want to have families and work in Canada."

He said the Cedenos will seek to have the ship's owners charged through the International Court of Justice at the United Nations. In a written submission to the IRB, Mr. Shah stated that the aunt, "Ms. Julie Smith and her husband [who was not named], now based in New Zealand, can conceivably face charges related to trafficking in human persons . . . under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Criminal Acts based on the evidence of the claimants."