Stella Maris port chaplain honoured with US award
By Vatican News staff reporter
Stella Maris Deputy Director in Chanthaburi Diocese in Thailand, Apinya Tajit, has been awarded the U.S. Department of State 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award.
She received the honour from Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at a ceremony in Washington D.C. on 19th July.
Apinya has worked with global maritime network Stella Maris since 2005 and for the past seven years has worked to end the scourge of human trafficking.
She has helped hundreds of workers in the fishing sector from various countries, including Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Burma, and Bangladesh, and has also played an active role in raising awareness of child trafficking, visiting schools throughout Thailand to educate more than 10,000 students each year.
Speaking about the honour bestowed on her, she said: “This Award is completely unexpected to me, and I feel honoured to receive it. Stella Maris works 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.
Stella Maris is involved in every process that the victims face, so that they are not fighting alone.”
In one example of her dedication, 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. The crew were saved, the case successfully prosecuted, and the seafarers received their owed wages and compensation. They were safely flown back home,” she recalled.
“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.”
Combatting human trafficking
Apinya emphasised that people need to recognise that human trafficking is still happening everywhere, and not just in developing countries. She also said it is up to each one of us to help eradicate it.
“Let’s do what is right, not what is easy. 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.”