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The hellship SS Tofuku Maru, which transported 1200 POWs (including all the British who would end up at Mitsushima POW Camp) from Singapore to Japan in 1942.
This is the Singapore War Crimes Tribunal trial of Ship's Master Shiro Otsu and Serjeant Eiji Yoshinari, who were in charge of the SS Tofuku Maru - a hellship travelling between Singapore and Japan in 1942. Many died when an epidemic broke out on board amongst the 1200 prisoners of war.
Singapore War Crimes Tribunal
Singapore Cases: No. 235/994
OTSU Shiro &
(1) Ship's Master OTSU Shiro
(2) Sjt. Maj. YOSHINARI Eiji
of the Imperial Japanese Forces
Place and Date of Trial:
Singapore, 4-6, 9, 11 June 47
Finding and Sentence:
Accused 1 - Guilty with the exception of the following words:-"And the accused Sgt. Maj. YOSHINARI Eiji as POW draft commander", "together", "the death of twenty-seven and", "others" and the pluralities contained in the word "were".
Accused 2 - Not Guilty - Acquitted
There was no printed finding and sentence by the court.
Committing a War Crime in that on board the transport vessel "TOFUKU MARU" between the 27th October 1942 and the 27th November 1942, the accused OTSU Shiro, as Master of the aforesaid "TOFUKU MARO", and the accused Sgt. Maj. YOSHINARI Eiji as P.O.W. draft commander, were, in violation of the laws and usages of war, together concerned in the ill-treatment of a draft of Allied Ps.O.W. resulting in the death of twenty-seven and physical suffering to many others of the aforesaid POWs.
Facts relating to the charge:
On or about 27 October 1942, about 1,200 American, Dutch, Australian and British POWs together with about 600 Japanese soldiers were embarked at Singapore on the "TOFUKU MARU" for Japan.
No. 1 accused was the ship's Captain and No. 2 accused was alleged to be draft conducting officer. Before embarkation PW 14 inspected the ship and found it in a very filthy condition. He immediately protested to No. 2 accused.
No notice was taken of this protest and the POWs were thereupon embarked. They were accommodated in the two rear holds; extremely overcrowded and allotted about 6 square feet for five men. They were unable to lie down properly. The food was insufficient and of poor quality, and worms were found on it. The Japanese had plenty of food. Drinking water was short. Very few medical supplies were issued to the POWs. No place was set aside as a hospital and no special diet for the sick patients was provided although the Japanese themselves were well supplied with fish, eggs and fresh vegetables.
An epidemic of diarrhea broke out among the POW resulting in latrines on the deck for the use of the POW in consequence of which their sleeping quarters were covered with human faeces. PW 17 stated that the Japanese officers had plenty of foodstuffs including tinned milk, meats, soups "M and V" rations etc., which could have been used to ease the food shortage amongst the POWs. There was no evidence that any of the Japanese suffered from any serious illness or that any of them died. No. 2 accused was laid up for a few days with diarrhea and inflammation of the lungs. On arrival at Japan there were about 150 POW stretcher cases out of which about 30 subsequently died. PW 14 protested from time to time to No. 2 accused to better the conditions of the POW but no action was taken.
The prosecution produced 17 affidavits of POW in support of the charge.
Accused handling of the charge:
In their defence the accused gave evidence on oath. No. 1 accused stated that the Anchorage Command Singapore was responsible for all the shipping arrangements and that food was taken on board to last 35 days. He said that the POWs got the same rations as the Japanese. The POWs brought their own medical supplies on board. He only knew of three deaths on board during the voyage and was surprised to be informed when he arrived in Japan that there had been 27 deaths among the POWs. From time to time he inspected the ship.
No. 2 accused denied that he was draft conducting officer and that Major Karasawa was O.C. Troops. He further stated that he was taking records to Japan and had no duty to perform on the ship except keep the records in safe custody. He did in fact assist Sgt. Akabani and also received complaints, which were passed on to Sgt. Akabani. HE himself suffered from diarrhea for a few days.
Main issues of the case raised by prosecution and defence:
The defence argued according to the conditions on the ship which involved the accused.
There were a few aspects that were discussed:
a) Overcrowded condition of POW quarters: The defence argued that the accused were not competent to decide what number of personnel, Japanese or POW should travel on the Tofuku Maru.
b) Alleged unsanitary living conditions: The defence could not countenance the Prosecutor's suggestion that a 1000 odd men with the spirit and standards of Western civilization could conceivably have sunk so low as to wallow idly in filth and degradation.
c) Alleged bad and insufficient food: The defence argued that Accused 1 was only responsible for seeing that food, which was in quantity and quality beyond his powers of dispersion, was duly cooked and handed over to the O.C. troops for distribution. The responsibility mostly lay in the authority and not the accused. In the matter of food supply on board, Accused 1 faithfully fulfilled such duties as he was responsible for. Beyond that he was powerless.
d) Alleged shortage of fresh water: The defence argued that though accused 1 claimed there was more than a sufficiency of fresh water on board, he had no responsibility and no authority in the matter of distributing this fresh water.
e) Alleged unsanitary latrine facilities: The defence argued that the sanitation of those latrines was the responsibility of the troops who used them and not accused 1 and 2.
f) Alleged unsanitary cooking facilities: The defence argued that food was stored in "different hygienic storing places", such as odd corners of the deck near the store boxes. The defence therefore could not agree with Prosecution affidavits in considering the conditions outlined above as unsanitary.
g) Shortage of medical supplies: The defence argued that there was a supply of medical supplies on board, in the ship's medical chest. They considered the widespread diarrhea was probably just a manifestation of sea-sickness and nothing more. The defence submitted that there was a shortage of medical supplies on board, or rather that there was an absence of the specific medicines required to deal with the specific cases of pneumonia and dysentery. However, it was by no means the responsibility of Accused 1 if his ship was not equipped with a complete and up-to-date hospital dispensary. They also submitted that accused 1 did all in his power to aid the POWs with what medicine he had.
The prosecution argued that all the space occupied by POWs was permanently soiled with human faeces and it was confirmed by a witness that there was body waste all over the floor and the men had to sleep on it. There were beetles, cockroaches and rats that ran all over the POWs. There was sufficient water on board but the POWs received only about half a canteen cup of water a day and this was insufficient to quench thirst. It was said that every day senior officers protested to Accused 2 but nothing ever came of it and his attitude was uncooperative at all times.
2) Individual responsibility of each accused
The defence argued that accused 1's authority as ship master was greatly curtailed by the military authorities and he had to follow superior's orders. They argued that he had fulfilled his responsibility of maintaining a responsible standard of general cleanliness and hygiene, since he delegated this responsibility in large part to the troops on board the ship. He also made efforts to improve the conditions of the POWs on board in areas such as food and water.
The defence argued that Accused 2 was in no way responsible or competent in matters concerning the POWs on board, and that his connection with them had led to a case of mistaken identity, was one of assistance to their Draft Conducting Officer and had been proven beyond all reasonable doubt in this Court. The defence argued that Accused 2's statements contained no element of exaggeration, underestimation, or confabulation and remained unshakeable to the end in spite of a most acute and detailed cross-examination. His statements about himself had been corroborated by several defence witnesses.
The prosecution argued that Accused 1 was in a high position as ship master and had he wanted to ease the sufferings of the POWs on board it was well within his power to do so. Instead, either through sheer neglect or gross indifference, he did nothing as he himself stated in his cross-examination.
The prosecution argued that Accused 2 told many lies while under cross-examination, and none of his evidence could be believed at all. There was no doubt that he was the NCO in charge of the POW draft and as such he was personally partially responsible for their gross ill-treatment, sufferings and deaths. He had been able to prove nothing on the contrary.
In conclusion the prosecution submitted that they considered that the evidence justified a conviction in that the accused were guilty. They submitted that both accused lent themselves by neglect and indifference to the War Crimes for which they must bear some of the responsibility.
D.J.A.G.'s submission: The D.J.A.G. advised that the finding and sentence in respect to Accused 1 be confirmed. He did not make any comment with regards to the acquittal of accused 2. There was probably insufficient evidence to convict him. Accused 1, he received an extremely light sentence, and this was probably because they could not find enough evidence of an intentional negligent policy against the POWs on board.
Compiled by Stephanie Beckman, Intern, U.C. Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center (Source)
British National Archives: R v. Shiro Otsu & Eiji Yoshinari - Legal Documents (WO235/994)