Top court nixes Korean appeal over ’45 ship blast

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal filed by the families of Korean victims of a ship explosion in 1945 that killed hundreds of Korean slave laborers returning from Japan after World War II.

The ruling preserves a May 2003 high court ruling that rejected their demand for compensation and an apology from the Japanese government.

A total of 80 South Koreans had been seeking an official apology and about 2.8 billion yen in compensation over the sinking of the Ukishima Maru, a 4,730-ton Japanese naval vessel that was transporting 4,000 mostly Korean slave laborers and their families from military facilities in northern Japan.

The explosion claimed the lives of 524 Korean laborers and 25 Japanese on Aug. 24 — just nine days after the end of World War II — according to a Japanese government announcement at the time.

Presiding Justice Tokiyasu Fujita of the top court’s Third Petty Bench handed down the decision, saying the plaintiffs and defendants’ reasons for appealing were not legitimate and closed the case without holding any court sessions.

The plaintiffs, who are relatives of those who died in or survived the incident, filed suit with the court on three occasions from 1992 to 1994. Of the 20 survivors who were plaintiffs when the case was filed, eight have since died.

The plaintiffs had argued the Japanese government was responsible for returning the Koreans home safely, while the Japanese government contended there was no employment relationship between the government and the Koreans that required the government to ensure their safety.

In a landmark decision, the Kyoto District Court on Aug. 23, 2001, ordered the government to pay 45 million yen in compensation to 15 of the 80 plaintiffs.