The US State Department cited a Stella Maris port chaplain in Thailand for her work supporting trafficked seafarers and fishers.
Apinya Tajit, Stella Maris deputy director in Chanthaburi diocese, received the US Department of State “2022 Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award” from Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a ceremony in Washington D.C. on July 19.
Stella Maris is the official maritime charity of the Catholic Church supporting seafarers, fishers, and their families around the world. It has a network of chaplains and volunteers, making more than 70,000 ship visits each year.
Apiyan has been cited for her work helping hundreds of workers in the fishing sector from various countries, including Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
She also played an active role in raising awareness of child trafficking, visiting schools throughout Thailand to educate more than 10,000 students each year.
Apinya has worked with global maritime network Stella Maris since 2005 and has for the past seven years dedicated her energies toward combatting human trafficking.
“This Award is completely unexpected to me, and I feel honoured to receive it,” she said, adding that Stella Maris has been working closely with law enforcement agencies in Thailand to support trafficked fishers and seafarers.
“We assist by way of helping identify victims, rescuing them, helping them reintegrate into society. We provide training, access to legal advice, and funding to help them rebuild their lives,” said Apinya.
“Stella Maris is involved in every process that the victims face, so that they are not fighting alone,” she added.
In one case, Apinya helped with the rescue of nine seafarers from a refrigerated cargo ship. The crew had sent her an email pleading for help, saying that they were injured and were desperate to get home to their families.
“My maternal instincts immediately kicked in and I had to go out and help rescue them,” she said.
“The crew were saved, the case successfully prosecuted, and the seafarers received their owed wages and compensation. They were safely flown back home,” added Apinya.
“We return sons to their mothers, fathers to their children, and husbands to their wives. Seafarers may be out of sight, but they are not out of mind,” she said.
Apinya said that people need to recognize that human trafficking is still happening everywhere, and not just in developing countries.
“Let’s do what is right, not what is easy,” she said, adding that it is “essential” that all the maritime conventions to protect the human rights of seafarers and fishers are implemented in every country and every part of the world.
“It’s not an easy task but by working together it’s not impossible,” she said. – with reports from the Independent Catholic News and Vatican News