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Southeast Asian Affairs 2003, pp. 52-68 MARITIME PIRACY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA Carolin Liss Preface In November 1998, while en route from Shanghai to Port Klang in Malaysia, the Hong Kong registered cargo-ship Cheung Son was approached just off the west coast of Kaohsiung in Taiwan by a small boat which appeared to be a Chinese Customs vessel. Left with little choice, the captain allowed the officers on board his ship, which carried a cargo of furnace slag. Once on board the Cheung Son, the Chinese 'officers', dressed in uniform and armed with guns, threatened the crew and took control of the vessel. After being held hostage for ten days, all twenty-three Chinese crew members of the Cheung Son were bludgeoned to death and their weighted bodies thrown into the sea. After the killings, the pirated vessel was sold within China for about US$36,000. The new owner hired a new crew and reportedly sold the vessel to an unknown Singaporean party for US$300,000. The pirates, however, did not get away with their crime. In an interview granted to the foreign media, Chinese police officials recounted that investigation into the Cheung Sons disappearance had begun when the owner of the vessel reported loss of contact with the ship. As fishermen found the first bodies of the murdered crew members, police learned that a man from Shanwei "went to sea and came back with a lot of money and a dented boat". The police officers eventually located the boat and its owner, who was hiding in a fishing village. He told the police that he had lent his vessel to two other men who could be found in Shenzen. Acting on this information, 300 officers raided a karaoke bar, where the alleged members of the pirate gang were celebrating. In the course of further investigation, the Chinese authorities discovered that some of the gang members had been involved in at least two other serious pirate attacks between August and November 1998. This information and the discovery of a celebratory photograph, taken by the pirates on board the Cheung Son, led to further arrests. In total, more than fifty 'pirates',1 aged between twenty-one and sixty, were arrested. Among them, the alleged leader of the gang Sony Wei, an Indonesian, who had previously been involved in inspection work contracted out by the Chinese Customs authorities. All other gang members captured were Chinese. Carolin Liss is a Postgraduate Research Student in the School ofAsian Studies, Murdoch University, Australia. Maritime Piracy in Southeast Asia53 In mid-December 1999, the arrested pirates were brought to trial in the Intermediate People's Court of Shanwei, Guangdong Province, where they were charged with robbery, mass murder, the illegal possession of firearms, and handling stolen property. Most of the defendants, among them Lu Xu, an unemployed man from Shanxi, and Cai Mutong, a fisher from Lufeng, claimed that they were hired for a legitimate anti-smuggling mission. According to their statements both only later discovered the true nature of the voyage, but were too afraid to confront the 'pirates'. Zhang Fenshen, a forty-two-year-old mechanic, told the court that the boat had sailed from an official border defence pier and added that he was not aware of any attack, as he was working in the 'custom vessel's' engine room. The court also heard that the Indonesian Sony Wei had been commissioned by Liem Sioe Liong, a Chinese Indonesian tycoon, to hire a pirate gang to attack the Cheung Son. Despite such testimony, the court established that Weng Siliang, a businessman from Shanwei, and not Sony Wei, was the ringleader of the gang. According to the trial statements, Weng coordinated the attack from mainland China. He remained in Shanwei during the hijacking and was sent a sample of the furnace slag on board which he forwarded to Singapore to inquire if it could be sold there at a good price. Sony Wei told the court that the command to kill the crew also came directly from Weng. In regard to the executions, the prosecutor told the court that each gang member was ordered to kill at least one crew member...


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