China frees Japanese boat after boat owner pays up

AP News
Posted: Apr 24, 2014 2:43 AM

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese court released a seized Japanese freight ship Thursday after owner Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. agreed to pay about $39 million to resolve a dispute dating back more than seven decades.

The Shanghai Maritime Court said that it freed Mitsui's Baosteel Emotion after the company paid more than 2.92 billion yen ($28 million) in compensation for two leased Chinese ships it lost in 1938 and 1944 and also court costs.

Including interest payments, Mitsui O.S.K. agreed to pay 4 billion yen ($39 million), the Kyodo News Service and other Japanese media said.

Chinese authorities seized the container vessel on Saturday, as ordered by the court, after Mitsui failed to pay compensation as ruled in an earlier lawsuit. The Shanghai court said it levied the judgment against Mitsui based on the lease costs, operating loss and damage to the two Chinese vessels, which sank while in the hands of Mitsui's predecessor Daido Kaiun.

The seizure and release of the boat came at a time when the relations between Beijing and Tokyo are tense over sovereignty claims over a chain of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga downplayed the possibility that the settlement might encourage similar lawsuits by Chinese companies.

"This goes way back," Suga said. "Litigation has been dragging on for quite some time now."

The Japanese government said earlier it was seeking Beijing's cooperation in the dispute, which the Chinese side characterized as a business dispute unrelated to war compensation. Suga reiterated Tokyo's unhappiness over the action.

"A vessel being suddenly seized like this is shocking news that would dampen Japanese companies' sentiment in China so that is why we were discussing this to express our regret," Suga said.