A slaughter at sea, a grainy video and justice delayed

A slaughter at sea, a grainy video and justice delayed

The men are helpless in the open water, clinging to floating debris, tossed by the rolling ocean waves. Several large fishing ships circle. None of the victims have life jackets, but no one makes a move to help. This isn’t a rescue.

A voice, off camera, shouts in Mandarin: “In the front, to the left! What are you doing?” Then: “Fire! Fire! Fire!”

Bullets spray the water around one flailing man. One round catches him. His body stills. Blood plumes in the blue ocean. Later, deckhands laugh and pose for photos.

Grainy video of the 2012 killings, which shows the systematic slaughter of at least four men in the Indian Ocean, has been circulating in the darker corners of the Internet for more than seven years. Now, authorities in Taiwan have arrested a suspect: a 43-year-old Chinese national whom they believe to be the man who shouted the orders to kill. Investigators hope he leads them to others.

But the case, which is still unfolding, shows the challenge of prosecuting crimes on the high seas. There were at least four tuna longliner ships on the scene of an incident that unfolded over more than 10 minutes in broad daylight. But no law required any of the dozens of witnesses to report the killings — and no one did. Law enforcement in the open ocean is limited, and jurisdiction is complicated. Authorities learned of the killings only when the video turned up on a cellphone left in a taxi in Fiji in 2014.