Ruling bars owners from moving ship
By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer
A Taiwanese fishing vessel said to be the scene of two killings was "arrested" by a federal judge here yesterday because the owner could not guarantee payment of more than $200,000 in wages claimed by 30 crew members.
The ship's cook, Lei Shi, of China, yesterday pleaded not guilty to charges that he fatally stabbed Captain Chen Chung-She of Taiwan and First Mate Li Da Feng of China, and hijacked the Full Means 2 on the high seas March 14.
Trial was set for early September. A hearing will be held Wednesday on claims by Pamela Byrne, the deputy federal public defender representing Shi, that U.S. authorities are holding her client in solitary confinement and depriving him of a Chinese language dictionary, reading matter or the chance to telephone his family.
The other crew members are being held in the same federal detention center as possible material witnesses.
Anne Stevens, a representative for the owners, said they are ready to pay the crew off and provide airplane tickets for their return to China as soon as they are released. Stevens said the owner's representative delivered close to $100,000 to her yesterday to pay the wages and ship's expenses.
Jay Friedheim, attorney for the crew members, said many of them were recruited from rural areas by Chinese labor bosses to work on Taiwanese ships. Friedheim said the crew members should be entitled to their wages and a return trip home. He also said they should receive bonuses from the harvest of 2.6 tons of fins taken from sharks caught during fishing operations.
Federal laws prevent the owner of Full Means 2 from removing the shark fins, which are considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac in some parts of the world, from the fishing vessel as long as it remains in a U.S. port.
Under a federal ban enacted in December 2000 to discourage the practice of cutting the fins off live sharks and throwing the animals back into the sea, shark fins cannot be sold or transferred to another ship while in the United States. However, fishing vessels that catch sharks in international waters can use U.S. ports to refuel or take on provisions, and the Full Means 2 could legally sail out of Honolulu Harbor with its cargo intact, according to Paul Ortiz, a senior enforcement attorney for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Long Beach, Calif.
Shark fins can be brought into the United States if the fishing vessel also brings the rest of each shark.
Brian Ho, attorney representing the owner FCF Fishery Co. of Taiwan, told Mollway that Friedheim's clients should guarantee any losses the company suffers as a result of the litigation.
Mollway denied that request, and said Ho could come back to court and get the ship released if the owners post sufficient security to guarantee payment if they lose the wage case at trial.
It is not uncommon for the owner of a fishing boat to sell the cargo in order to pay back wages to a crew, said Ray Sautter, deputy special agent in charge of NOAA's fisheries enforcement office.
"Usually in situations like this, where it involves a crew and back wages, the logical question is: Is there some way that the cargo can be sold so the crew is paid, the owner gets his money and it is all win-win?" Sautter said. "But in this case, the answer is no."
Bo Liu, a crew member whose claims were typical, said in papers filed in court yesterday that the company promised him $140 a month for three years, or a total of $5,040, and that he should already have been paid $1,680.
He and the other crew members were hired as seamen and fishermen, but had not been paid or allowed to leave the ship for up to 13 months before the killings occurred, their suit said.
Friedheim noted that the Full Means 2 sails under a flag of convenience from Seychelles.
Mike Gordon contributed to this report.
Reach Walter Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8054.