The Curious Case of Mistranslation at the Shanghai Maritime Court

The Curious Case of Mistranslation at the Shanghai Maritime Court

In the intricate landscape of international business, accurate communication is paramount, and legal translation plays a pivotal role. However, even minor errors in translation can have far-reaching consequences, leading to costly disputes and jeopardising business relationships.


The Shanghai Maritime Court Case

In 2012, the Shanghai Maritime Court grappled with a case that underscored the critical importance of precise legal translation: the dispute centred on seemingly basic translation errors. For instance, the term “drydocking” was mistakenly rendered as “tank washing,” and the phrase “except fuel used for domestic service” was inaccurately translated as “except fuel used for domestic flights.” These seemingly minor discrepancies had significant implications, triggering costly legal battles between Chinese and foreign parties.


The Nuances of Legal Translation

Legal translation is a highly specialised skill that demands more than mere language proficiency. Here are essential considerations to avoid pitfalls:

Choose Experienced Legal Translators: Opt for qualified professionals with expertise in related terminology. Inexperienced or unqualified translators may inadvertently introduce errors. Jin Xiaofeng, a judge at the Shanghai Maritime Court, aptly noted that while there are numerous translation agencies in Shanghai, true expertise is scarce.

Industry-Specific Knowledge: Legal translators must understand ‘legalease’ – i.e. legal industry-specific jargon. Trade meanings often diverge from common idiomatic expressions and a nuanced grasp of legal terms is crucial to prevent misinterpretations.

Beware of Alternate Meanings: Some parties may seek undue commercial advantage by inserting alternate meanings into translated documents to gain commercial advantage. Dan Harris writes on his China Law blog that he often sees an “English language contract that says ‘A’ and a Chinese language contract that says ‘not A’.” The Chinese language portion of the contract then makes clear that in any dispute the Chinese language version of the contract will control. The foreign party believes they signed a contract saying “A”, but in reality, they agreed to “not A”. Vigilance is essential; if you lack control over the initial translation service, consider requesting a back translation to ensure alignment between versions.


IMD Translation Ltd

At IMD Translation, we recognise that precision matters. Our commitment to excellence extends beyond words. Here’s how we safeguard your interests:

Certification as standard: We offer our standard company certification for all human translations, assuring accuracy and quality. We can also facilitate alternative forms of certification.

Expert Linguists: We only work with highly qualified and experienced linguists who specialise in their respective fields and legal practice areas. Whether it’s commercial contracts, witness statements, or court documents, we ensure fidelity to the original intent.

Association of Translation Companies Membership: Our reputation for excellence is reinforced by our membership in the Association of Translation Companies.

ISO9001 and ISO17100 Certifications: Annual external audits validate our adherence to international standards. We take pride in maintaining the highest quality standards.



In the intricate dance of cross-cultural business, language matters profoundly. IMD Translation stands as your trusted partner, ensuring that business and legal nuances transcend linguistic boundaries. Contact us for accurate translations that empower your global endeavors.

For more information about IMD Translation and our team, please visit our website. We take pride in supporting professional services and legal practitioners with top-quality translations and interpreting services. Because in legal matters, language truly matters.