By Ian Urbina, a former investigative reporter for the New York Times, is the director of The Outlaw Ocean Project, a non-profit journalism organization based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on reporting about environmental and human rights crimes at sea.”
WASHINGTON — A District Court in Taiwan sentenced a fishing boat captain from China to 26 years in prison after he was found guilty of ordering the killing of four men at sea in 2012 while serving as the captain of a Taiwanese fishing vessel.
Wang Fengyu, 43, was convicted of homicide and for violations of the Controlling Guns, Ammunition and Knives Act, the prosecutor’s office said.
The murder took place on board the Kaohsiung-registered longliner Ping Shin No. 101 when it was operating in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast on Sept. 29, 2012.
Grainy video of the 2012 killings, which shows the systematic slaughter of at least four men in the Indian Ocean, has been circulating in the darker corners of the Internet for more than seven years. Authorities learned of the killings only when the video turned up on a cell phone left in a taxi in Fiji in 2014.
Wang Fengyu claimed that it was in self-defense at the time but the court ruled that he ordered two private maritime security guards from Pakistan on board the Ping Shin No. 101 to shoot and kill four suspected Somali pirates that day even though they were no longer a threat.
Wang, a Zhejiang-native, was hired in 2011 by a Kaohsiung company called Ping Shin Fishery Co., Ltd. to serve as acting captain of the Taiwanese fishing vessel.
The Ping Shin 101 was fishing in the Indian Ocean in 2012 about 370 miles southeast of the Somali capital of Mogadishu when it, along with the Kaohsiung-registered Chun I No. 217 and two other unidentified fishing boats, were fired on by a pirate ship with four pirates, according to Taiwanese prosecutors.
Two deckhands on board the Ping Shin 101 later told private investigator Karsten Von Hoesslin in videotaped interviews, that when their captain received a radio alert that a nearby ship had come under attack by pirates. It was unclear which ship was being attacked; there was yelling back and forth, the witnesses said. The supposed pirates, in a smaller boat, seemed to be unarmed. After the Taiwanese ships were fired on, one of them decided to ram into the pirate ship, which caused it to overturn and sent the four pirates into the ocean.
Security guards aboard the Ping Shin 101 opened fire, and the men in the boat leaped into the water. Some began yelling that they were not a threat. “No Somali!” one deckhand heard them say. “No pirates!”
Even though the pirates had no way to fight back, Wang instructed the two security guards to shoot and kill the four men in the water. The murder garnered international attention after it appeared on the front page of The New York Times and became a symbol of lawlessness and violence at sea.
“Since the defendant worked for years on the high sea under no state jurisdiction and without any security guarantee, he had to always remain on high alert, especially at places frequented by pirates,” Taiwanese court documents said about the crime. “The defendant believed the victims were pirates, and the killing was done to protect himself, his crew, and the produce on the ship, instead of over personal conflicts, monetary disputes, or ideological differences.”
In the video, the order to shoot in the video was made in fluent Mandarin. The captain is heard giving directions in Mandarin with a mainland Chinese accent over a loudspeaker to the crew as 40 rounds of live ammunition are fired. At the end of the video several deckhands posed on camera for celebratory selfies.
On Pingxin 101 only Wang and a crewman called “Uncle” could speak fluent Mandarin. Only Wang had the authority on board to order the shooting. A Vietnamese crewman who witnessed the shooting and that the prosecutors identified only through his surname, Tao, testified during the trial that the order to shoot in the video sounded like Wang’s voice.
The four unarmed men in the water were shot to death one by one, with the video showing the water turning red around them.
Prosecutors say they spent time trying to track down the vessel, but the captain never reported for questioning, so a warrant for his arrest was issued on Dec. 28, 2018.
Wang was arrested on Aug. 22, 2020 after the ship he was in charge of, the Seychelles-flagged Indian Star, docked at Kaohsiung port.
On Friday, the three-judge panel ruled that the killing of the unarmed men showed that he clearly had no respect for human life. Wang has the right to appeal the ruling.
In the past twelve months, Taiwan’s fishing fleet has been the subject of criticism from environmental, labor, and human trafficking advocates as well as U.S. government officials. In March 2020, Greenpeace released a report that identified Taiwanese vessels and companies as some of the worst offenders of labor and human trafficking violations among fisheries. They also found widespread illegal fishing practices including shark finning and illegal transshipments.
In September 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor included fish caught from Taiwan in its Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor list. In January 2020 Fong Chun Formosa Fishery, a Taiwan-based company linked to illegal fishing and labor violations, acquired Bumble Bee, a major supplier of tuna to U.S. consumers.