Judge orders seizure
of ship in murder case

By Leila Fujimori

The suspect in a murder at sea pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges that he killed his captain and first mate on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel last month.

A judge ordered that the vessel, the Full Means No. 2, be seized by the government -- a move that will allow attorneys to sue the boat's owner for back pay for the crew.

U.S. marshals served an arrest warrant on the Full Means No. 2, which is docked at Honolulu Harbor, said attorney Arnold Phillips, who along with Jay Friedheim is representing all 30 crew members.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the ship's cook, 21-year-old Shi Lei, for the stabbing deaths of the captain and first mate and for hijacking the ship last month on the high seas.

Federal Magistrate Kevin Chang yesterday delayed the start of Shi's trial until Sept. 4 to allow attorneys more time to prepare for the trial.

The Full Means No. 2 was ready to set sail at 6 a.m. yesterday, but a temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway at a 3 a.m. hearing kept it from leaving until 4:30 p.m. Mollway issued the order to hold the ship in port shortly before the restraining order was ready to expire.

The attorneys have sued the boat's owner, FCF Fishing Co. and Full Means Fishery Co., for back pay and a claim for the wrongful death of the first mate.

The crew is being detained by the federal government as material witnesses in the case against Shi.

Phillips said they are seeking $290,000 in wages for the 30 and repatriation of the men to China.

"It's an extraordinary remedy," Phillips said. He said he hoped to complete negotiations with the company within three days.

Phillips said that if the crewmen prevail, the boat owner has to pay the cost of insurance and other fees incurred to arrest the boat.

Friedheim said they will seek pay for the entire three-year contracts for the men, though some began work in November.

"In China, it's difficult to get a contract in force. That's why abuses go on," he said.

Attorney for the owner, Bryan Ho, said the company had planned to pay the men their back pay but that claims for payment of their entire contracts was unfair.

About 2.6 tons of shark fin, which he estimates comes from between 1,000 and 3,000 sharks, worth an estimated $500,000 to $2,500,000, is being kept in the refrigerated cargo hold with fish.

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