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Deadly High Seas Mutiny Leaves Diplomatic Tangle, Mystery in Its Wake

August 27, 1996

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ It started as a routine fishing trip. It ended with the bodies of the captain and 10 crew members thrown overboard, and the accused mutineers locked in their cabins.

The Pesca Mar No. 15 left the South Korean port of Pusan for the South Pacific on July 14 with 25 men aboard _ 10 Indonesians, eight South Koreans and seven Chinese.

Two weeks into the trip, the captain radioed another South Korean ship and complained that the Chinese crew members were refusing to work. He said he was heading to the island of Samoa to find replacements.

The Aug. 3 transmission was the last anyone heard of the Pesca Mar for three weeks.

The accounts of what happened after that vary. All are in agreement that there was a mutiny by all but one of the Chinese sailors; that the mutineers tried to steer the ship toward China; and that they ran out of fuel and drifted.

The rest, however, is murky. How, for instance, were the captain and 10 crew members killed? And why did the Chinese rebel against them?

By the time the Japanese coast guard found the boat on Sunday, the bodies had been dumped overboard. No murder weapons were found. Accounts from those of board were contradictory.

``We’ve talked to several of the people aboard, but they all have different versions of what happened,″ Tomohiro Innami, spokesman for the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency, said Tuesday.

The most detailed account of the events was reported in South Korean newspapers. They cited Lee In-suk, the sole South Korean survivor. The reports could not be confirmed.

According to Lee, the other seven South Koreans were lured from their cabins one by one on Aug. 2, killed and dumped overboard.

A Chinese sailor and three Indonesians who refused to take part in the mutiny died after being locked in a freezer, he said.

Lee said he was spared so he could navigate the 294-ton trawler.

When the Japanese coast guard showed up, Lee and the surviving Indonesians were in control of the boat, with the six Chinese crew members locked up.

Now the Honduras-registered boat is drifting in the Pacific, about 375 miles south of Japan, while officials from several countries decide which country should investigate.

The mutiny took place in international waters, and the crew included South Koreans, Indonesians and Chinese. Seoul said Tuesday that it wants jurisdiction since most of the victims were Koreans and the ship is owned by a South Korean firm. No other country has sought jurisdiction.

Unless other countries object, Seoul hopes to tow the ship to a South Korean port by this weekend.

Update hourly