• Kyodo

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Two Filipino sailors have confessed to killing a Japanese sailor who vanished at sea April 7 off Taiwan, the Japan Coast Guard said Thursday.

The Filipino crew members of the 148,330-ton tanker Tajima, a Panamanian-registered vessel owned by Tokyo-based Kyoei Tanker Co., said they killed Izumi Shimba, 52, a second mate from Kyoto, the coast guard said.

The Tajima, with her crew of 24, arrived off the port of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, last Friday, according to the coast guard, adding it has found bloodstains aboard the ship.

But the coast guard cannot probe the case because the incident happened on a foreign-registered ship in international waters.

Sailors from the tanker are undergoing voluntary questioning, and the Japanese crew members are watching the Filipinos to prevent their escape, it added.

The coast guard has produced an investigative report based on its findings and questioning of the sailors, and intends to ask Panama, which has jurisdiction over the tanker, through the Foreign Ministry to decide how to handle the suspects.

The likelihood of prosecution, however, is unclear because there is no bilateral extradition treaty.

According to the coast guard, Shimba disappeared after he said he was going to check the Tajima’s cargo control room at around 3:30 a.m. April 7, when the tanker was about 55 km east of Taiwan.

It was carrying crude oil from the Persian Gulf to Himeji.

Shimba was initially believed to have fallen overboard, but a sailor reported to the Tajima’s Japanese captain that the Filipinos might have killed him. When questioned by coast guard officials, the pair said there had been “problems” between Shimba that led them to kill him.

In Tokyo, Kyoei Tanker officials said at a news conference Thursday morning that while the incident is still under investigation, another Filipino crewman witnessed the incident, and two other Filipinos told their superior on the tanker that “a terrible thing” had happened.

“We never thought that such a thing could happen,” Kyoei Tanker President Yasuo Seto said, adding that the firm was asking that the government and other concerned parties handle the two suspects.

The vessel is owned, managed and operated by Kyoei Tanker but registered in Panama to avoid high Japanese taxes and strict shipping-control regulations.

According to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, among the 2,000 ocean-going vessels of 2,000 tons or more owned by Japanese shipping firms, only 117 are registered in Japan. There are 1,457 registered in Panama and 122 in Liberia.

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