Friday, December 12, 2008
Friday, 12 December 2008
Managers of a Hong Kong supertanker whose crew chiefs were jailed over South Korea's worst oil spill have blasted the decision as a "disgrace and insult" to the world shipping community. An international union federation separately described the South Korean appeal court ruling as "incomprehensibly vindictive." Reversing a lower court decision, the appeal court on Wednesday jailed the Indian captain Jasprit Chawla and chief officer Syam Chetan after ruling they were negligent in minimising the spillage.
The accident happened in December 2007 when a barge carrying a construction crane broke free after a cable to one of two tugs snapped in rough seas.
The barge rammed the anchored 147,000-ton tanker Hebei Spirit, holing it in three places and spilling 10,900 tons of crude oil.
V.Ships, which says it is the world's largest ship manager, said in a statement Thursday the court's decision "will surely go down as one of the most disgraceful examples of a miscarriage of justice in a 'supposedly' advanced nation state.
"For Captain Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan to be sentenced to prison terms and led from the court in handcuffs is a disgrace and insult to the whole shipping industry," it added.
Shipping operators and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) insist the tanker crew were blameless. The lower court in June had found them not guilty but prosecutors appealed the decision.
The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners has expressed "extreme dismay and disappointment" at Wednesday's ruling.
V.Ships said the ITF and its international membership were now "questioning whether it was safe for its members to travel on ships to Korea."
The lower court blamed barge operator Samsung Heavy Industries, part of the country's biggest business group, and the Korean tugboat skippers for the spill which fouled scores of marine farms and miles of beaches southwest of Seoul.
The appeal court in the central city of Daejeon agreed the Korean operators were mainly at fault and confirmed jail sentences on the tugboat skippers. But it said the tanker crew failed to take prompt action to abate the spillage.
Chawla was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined 20 million won (14,000 dollars) while chief officer Syam Chetan was sentenced to eight months and fined 10 million won.
Their lawyers said they would appeal to the supreme court.
The ship's owner, Hong Kong-registered Hebei Ocean Shipping, was fined 30 million won.
The ITF said in a statement the campaign to free the two officers would go on.
"What we have seen... is scapegoating, criminalisation and a refusal to consider the wider body of evidence that calls into question the propriety of the court," said Stephen Cotton, its maritime coordinator.
"This decision is incomprehensibly vindictive and will impact on all professional mariners."
V.Ships said the appeal court had relied on findings by the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST) which meant that "technically flawed, unreliable and unjust evidence" had been submitted to judges.
"In submitting their report, the KMST has demonstrated both its incompetence and an obvious desire to find fault with the officers of the Hebei Spirit," the management firm said.
As adapted from AFP