When Chinese sailors aboard a fishing boat off the coast of Chile revolted against their captain in the early summer of 2011, it set off a murderous chain of events that left 22 people dead or missing.
The mutiny started over the men’s pay and ended with just 11 survivors, each of whom had killed a crewmate — some because they had been forced to. The five ringleaders were given death sentences in 2013. According to a document made public on Thursday, China’s Supreme People’s Court ratified that verdict last year.
The ill-fated ship, the Lurongyu 2682, left the port of Shidao, on the tip of eastern China’s Shandong province, on Dec. 27, 2010, embarking on a two-year voyage to fish for squid near South America. As was the custom, they set off firecrackers to wish for a safe return.
But mounting discontent over low pay and hard labor erupted in violence on June 17 the following year, according to the Supreme People’s Court document. Under the leadership of then-26-year-old Liu Guiduo, several sailors mutinied. Armed with knives and steel rods, they barged into the cabin of the ship’s captain, Li Chengquan, bound him up, and forced him to set course for home.
The ship’s cook was the first to die when he tried to save Li. Liu’s coconspirators stabbed and beat him, and threw him into the ocean. The mutineers gained control of all the knives onboard, including a few blades they had fashioned out of fishing equipment.
According to a feature from USA Today that was based on the 56-page court judgment from 2013, the crew members divided into regional gangs. The boat’s 33 sailors hailed from all over China — as far inland as Inner Mongolia and as far to the northeast as Liu’s home province of Heilongjiang, bordering Siberia.
On July 20, six crew members were stabbed and thrown overboard because Liu suspected them of sabotaging the ship to undermine him. Liu and his coconspirators — primarily other northeastern natives — had by then planned to escape to Japan, and to that end had forced some crew members to call their families via satellite phone and have them transfer money. But when Liu got the impression that some of the sailors in his clique did not agree with his plan, he had them killed, too.
On July 25, when the boat was about 1,800 kilometers east of Japan, another crew member disappeared, ostensibly after having tried to scuttle the ship — which had begun taking on water and was listing to one side.
The same day, four crew members decided to slip away on a makeshift raft, but they eventually drifted back to the Lurongyu. Three of the would-be escapees were forced to throw themselves into the sea, never to be seen again.
The fourth man, surnamed Song, had already jumped into the water, wearing a life jacket. Floating in the waves, he asked to be hauled aboard. Once Song was on deck, Captain Li, who had since joined ranks with the mutineers, suggested that the only two crew members who had yet to kill anyone should tie him up and weigh him down with metal objects. They then threw Song overboard.
The ship had started calling for help over the radio. With help from the Japanese coast guard, the Lurongyu finally arrived back in Shidao on Aug. 12, 2011. The 11 survivors were arrested. They had tried to destroy all evidence of what had happened onboard, and initially claimed to have acted out of self-defense, but eventually they admitted to the killings. Five of the men, including Liu and Li, were sentenced to death. Six others were given sentences ranging from four years to life in prison and suspended death penalties.
The Shandong provincial high court rejected an appeal filed by four of the defendants in 2015, and then requested that the Supreme People’s Court — which must approve all death sentences — investigate and confirm the verdict.
The final tally, according to Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, was 20 dead and two missing.
It is not known whether the survivors who were sentenced to death have been executed.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: A fishing boat anchored at sunset in the Pacific Ocean, Sept. 17, 2017. Li Jianbo/VCG)