The crewman from a Taiwanese fishing vessel charged with killing his captain and first mate before hijacking the ship on the high seas off Hawaii made an initial appearance in a US court Friday.
Lei Shi of China was assigned a public defender and asked if he understood the charges against him by US Magistrate Leslie Kobayashi.
Shackled at the ankles, dressed in federal-issued blue garb and wearing bandages around both wrists, Shi was subdued as he listened to Kobayashi through an interpreter.
Defense attorney Shanlyn Park said her client understood the criminal complaint, which was interpreted to him earlier.
Shi, a cook, was charged on Thursday -- his 21st birthday -- with commandeering the Full Means No. 2 after fatally stabbing the captain and first mate during an argument on March 14, federal prosecutors said.
After controlling the ship for two days, the crew eventually overpowered Shi and tied him up. The quarrel was apparently over Shi's wishes to return to China.
The federal offense of "seizing control of a ship by means of murder" is punishable by the death penalty, assistant US Attorney Elliott Enoki said Friday.
Enoki said the decision to seek the death penalty would be made by US Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Prosecutors also noted that Shi was his correct surname, contrary to previous court documents filed by prosecutors that stated his surname as Lei.
The 30 crew members remaining on the ship are cooperating with the investigation and are not being detained. However, the vessel is considered a crime scene, Enoki said.
Shi is not expected to be sent to his native China because the US does not have an extradition treaty with that country, Enoki said.
He would not comment on any diplomatic issues with China or Taiwan.
The Taiwanese captain, Chen Chung-she, was thrown overboard and his body was not recovered. The first mate, Li Da Feng of China, was found inside the ship's freezer. He died about 12 hours after he was stabbed, according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI.