March 15, 2008
Scottish town looks east in drugs battle
David Lister, Scotland Correspondent
Not so long ago Fraserburgh was dubbed the heroin capital of Britain, where fishing boat skippers
struggled to find crew members who were not high on drugs or too exhausted from the latest binge to
even turn up for work.
But after years of gloom the fishing port is enjoying a cautious revival after adopting a radical solution to
ensure its boats no longer have to rely on drug-addicted locals: by recruiting Filipinos from the other side
of the world, known for their clean living and strict Roman Catholicism.
In a port once known for the brawny, weathered-looking Scots who manned its boats, the slight, wiry
physique of men like Pampilo Bagaub is becoming an increasingly common sight.
As he shivers in the cold on the deck of the Bountiful, a 70-foot langoustine trawler, it is perfectly clear
why Pampilo and dozens of his fellow countrymen are now coming to Britain.
“I came here to work, not to be happy happy,” says the 42-year-old, from General Santos City in the
southern Philippines. “I want to earn money to send home to my family, not to buy whisky.”
Up and down the east coast of Scotland, in fishing ports not so long ago written off as economic hell
holes with no future, the face of Scottish fishing is being transformed as young Filipino men arrive in
There are now up to 100 in Fraserburgh alone, some earning as little as £70 a week, while dozens more
are working on trawlers based in Peterhead, Eyemouth and ports in England. In total, it is estimated that
there are between 300 and 700 Filipino fishermen working in Britain.
In Fraserburgh, the churches have seen a marked uplift in attendances, with one even laying on
minibuses to collect the Filipinos from their boats every Sunday. Even the local college has benefited: 12
out of 16 students attending its Saturday morning net-mending course are Filipinos.
Although reports of drug-addicted fishermen are still relatively common in the north-east of Scotland,
prospects have steadily improved for the fishing industry.
Despite rising fuel costs, some trawlermen are now making a decent living again thanks to higher fish
prices and an easing of quota restrictions. For many skippers, however, the biggest factor is the Filipinos.
Peter Willcox, 43, owner of the Bountiful, who has three Filipinos among his five crew, says that their
impact cannot be exaggerated. “We wouldn’t be able to put out to sea without them,” he says. “They are
great workers, but most of all you can trust them. They won’t come home drunk or off their faces.”
Pointing to neighbouring boats in the harbour, he adds: “He’s got three, there’s two in that one and
another four there. With some boats it’s very nearly all Filipino crew.”
The local shipyard is now so busy that it has a two-year backlog on new boat orders while, in a symbolic
gesture of confidence, Fraserburgh’s harbour commissioners resurrected their annual dinner and trophy
presentation last month for the first time in 17 years. It did not go unnoticed that one of the winning boats
had Filipino crew members.
Although some are paid as little as £270 per month, for the more experienced Filipino fishermen - trawl
masters or engineers - the salary rises to £620. Almost all are employed through Super Manning, a
Philippines-based agency that arranges fixed 10-month contracts with British-based fishing vessels.
The trawlers also pay them a “catch bonus” depending on the amount of fish they land, as well as return
flights home and board and lodging on the boats. Even when the vessels are tied up in harbour, they
sleep on board.
“In real terms they’re not that much cheaper because we pay for their flights home, for their food and to
keep the electricity running when the boat is in harbour,” said Mr Willcox.
“When I picked them up from the airport our first stop was to get them fleeces and survival suits because
they had turned up with completely inappropriate clothes - shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops.”
According to immigration regulations, the Filipinos only require UK transit visas to work on British-based
fishing boats, so long as the vessels spend most of the time operating in international waters - at least 12
miles out to sea.
Ross Middleton, fish sales manager at Fraserburgh Inshore Fishermen, a co-operative of 14 boats, said
that the move to employ Filipinos had begun within the past year.
He said: “The skippers were complaining that they couldn’t find good crew and we heard that there was
someone on the west coast who had been using them. They are hard-working and relatively cheap. They
are good guys.”
Although a few locals have expressed resentment towards the Filipinos, most have been happy to accept
For Ryan Latis, 32, who arrived in Fraserburgh last summer and sends two-thirds of his wages back
home to support his wife and 10-year-old son, the future is bright. He previously worked on Japanese and
Indonesian trawlers, where conditions were harsh by comparison.
“It’s cold here but I like the people,” he says. “I don’t have a house in the Philippines. I hope that if I stay
here for maybe five years, then I can buy one.”