A court in Shanghai has seized a large Japanese ore carrier at a port in Zhejiang province to enforce a verdict seeking compensation for the sinking of two civilian Chinese cargo ships during the second world war.
Shanghai Maritime Court said on its website on Saturday that it had impounded the vessel Baosteel Emotion, which is owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines of Tokyo, in connection with a lawsuit concerning wartime reparations involving Chinese and Japanese shipping companies. The vessel is berthed at Majishan port.
The dispute stems from a deal in the 1930s between Chung Wei Steamship Company and the Japanese shipping firm. Two ships leased to the Japanese firm were "taken over" after war broke out, but were later sunk.
Chung Wei moved to Hong Kong in the 1950s and the Japanese firm merged with Navix Line, which in turn merged with Mitsui.
Two grandchildren of Chung Wei's owner, Chen Zhen and Chen Chun, filed the landmark lawsuit against Navix in 1988 with the Shanghai Maritime Court, seeking wartime reparations of US$160 million.
The maritime court awarded the Chens nearly 3 billion yen in damages and compensation in 2007. The Supreme People's Court rejected the Japanese company's appeal in 2010, according to the maritime court.
The Shanghai court served an enforcement notice on Mitsui in late 2011 but negotiations between the Chens and Mitsui ended with no result, prompting the court to seize Baosteel Emotion on Saturday.
Chen Rulang, a lawyer specialising in maritime lawsuits in Shanghai, said mainland courts had rarely, if ever, taken such a tough stance to recover wartime reparations from Japan.
"The verdict has been made so the action is absolutely legal, but it is quite unusual. In my memory there was not another case," he said, adding that Mitsui had only two options: pay the money or lose the ship.
The Japanese company could not be reached for comment yesterday.