The Shanghai Maritime Court has seized a vessel owned by shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines at a port in Zhejiang Province for failing to respond to a compensation order stemming from a wartime contractual dispute, Shanghai municipal authorities announced Sunday.
It appears to be the first time that an asset of a Japanese company has been confiscated in a lawsuit concerning wartime compensation. The container ship, identified by local media and municipal authorities as the Baosteel Emotion, was seized on Saturday.
The Maritime Court said that if Mitsui does not honor its legal obligations, it will dispose of the ship in accordance with the law.
In a statement issued Sunday, the public relations department of Tokyo-based Mitsui said it is looking into the details of the matter and deliberating on its response.
In 2007, the court demanded that Mitsui pay 190 million yuan (about $26 million) to a Chinese family to compensate for unpaid contractual obligations by Mitsui’s predecessor, Daido Shipping Co.
Mitsui appealed the decision, but in December 2012 the Supreme People’s Court rejected Mitsui’s petition for retrial, affirming the decision.
In 1936, a year before the Second Sino-Japanese War began, Daido rented two ships on a one-year contract from Zhongwei Shipping Co. However, the ships were commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy and later sank at sea.
The suit was brought against Mitsui by grandsons of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping Co.
Mitsui has argued that it is not liable for compensation given that the ships Daido rented were requisitioned by the Japanese military.
A string of compensation lawsuits related to wartime forced labor in Japan have recently been filed in China against Japanese corporations, reflecting the apparent intention of the country’s new leadership, headed by President Xi Jinping, to harden relations with Japan.
Rulings made in favor of such plaintiffs could lead to further confiscations of assets in China.