With courts in China being open more and more to the idea of its citizens suing for compensation from Japanese companies for wartime labor and damage disputes, it is still a bit surprising that the Shanghai Maritime Court seized a vessel on Saturday owned by Japanese shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines at a port in the Chinese province of Zhejiang. The court declared that it was seizing the ship because Mitsui had failed to respond to a compensation order by the court over a wartime contractual dispute. This is the first time that an asset of a Japanese company has been confiscated in a lawsuit concerning wartime compensation.
The Shanghai Maritime Court declared that if Mitsui does not honor what it calls the Japanese company’s “legal obligations,” it would have no choice but to dispose of the ship in accordance with the law. According to Shanghai municipal authorities, the seized Japanese ship has been identified as the container ship “Baosteel Emotion.” The Shanghai court is actually alluding to a 2007 lawsuit where the court demanded that Mitsui pay around about US$26 million to a Chinese family for compensation over unpaid contracts that were reneged on by Mitsui’s predecessor, Daido Shipping Co. As the lawsuit declared, Daido rented two ships on a one-year contract from Zhongwei Shipping Co. in 1936, a year before the armed conflict between China and Japan broke out. The two ships were then commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy and later sank at sea. The current lawsuit was brought by the grandsons of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping Co. against Mitsui shipping.
Mitsui has replied to the seizing of its asset through a statement made public on Sunday, where the public relations department of the Tokyo-based shipping giant said that it is currently looking into the details of the matter. Mitsui had earlier argued that it should not be held liable for paying the compensation since the ships in question were requisitioned by the Japanese military during the war. This lawsuit is part of a number of lawsuits that have been filed by Chinese citizens demanding war-related compensation from Japanese entities. The most recent one before this was in March, when the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court accepted a lawsuit filed by Chinese laborers seeking compensation from Japanese companies who forced them to work during World War II.