The prosecution of a number of sailors and fisherman for murder on the high seas was reported in U.S.A. Today on 4 September 2013.
On 27 December 2010 the Chinese fishing vessel Lurongyu set out from the port of Shidao on a two-year squid-fishing mission in the South Pacific on behalf of the Xinfa Aquatic Foodstuff Co. At departure she carried a crew of 33.
In or about March 2010 discontent developed among some of the crew who insisted with menaces that the ship return to China. The master agreed. Over the subsequent months a series of feuds and punishment killings by the mutineers resulted in 22 crewmembers being stabbed, drowned or (more or less involuntarily) drowning themselves. In the vicinity of Japan the ship had mechanical problems and encountered a Japanese patrol boat. It was eventually towed back to Shidao, arriving on 12 August 2011 (the report does not clarify why the return journey took something more than 12 months). The 11 survivors were arrested on arrival.
At trial an attempt was made by defence counsel to attach fault to Xinfa Aquatic Foodstuffs, on the basis that the company’s poor management had generated the crew’s discontent.
The mutineers were convicted of some 16 murders. Five were sentenced to death and the remaining six sentenced to imprisonment for terms ranging between four years and life.
Xinfa has paid compensation to the families of a number of the victims.
It would be interesting to know whether China’s (presumably at least nominally communist) jurisprudence would recognize liability in an employer for creating a situation in which a mutiny was seen as warranted. This could create an interesting tension with the idea of a pirate – some of these acts amounting to piracy (1) – as the enemy of all nations and societies (2).
(1) See Crimes Act 1958 (Vic.), §70B.
(2) “[F]or centuries, pirates have been universally condemned as hostis humani generis — enemies of all mankind — because they attack vessels on the high seas, and thus outside of any nation’s territorial jurisdiction, . . . with devastating effect to global commerce and navigation”: United States v Hasan, 747 F. Supp. 2d 599 at 602 (E.D. Va. 2010).