Monday, 18 May 2009

Samsung must ask itself – was it worth it?

Samsung’s part in the Hebei Spirit saga has not been (and may never be) fully released to the public, but allegations of offers of gifts and employment by Samsung to the crew from the Hebei Spirit have been widely known for some time.

Needless to say these allegations have been totally ignored by both the Korean courts and Government. Why? Such actions are criminal offences. Whereas, two officers avoiding a collision and then working without sleep for two days to minimise oil spilled onto Korean beaches are not criminal offences. They have been, however, classified as such by the Korean Courts.

Is the face-saving exercise of no jail term, but a criminal conviction, for the Hebei Two simply for Samsung’s benefit? Or does the Korean shipping industry see it as a proud moment of righteousness for their country?

It could be argued that Samsung will one day, if they haven’t already, regret their decision to ensure that someone else shared responsibility for Korea’s biggest environmental accident?

Samsung needs to a weigh up if doing so has been worth the serious damage done to their brand globally (particularly in India), their corporate credibility and their reputation in the international maritime community. Likewise, the Korean maritime authorities.

We think not.

One thing is for sure. Once Samsung committed to appealing against the original court decision, which exonerated the Hebei Two, there has been no turning back. Saving face, despite increasing international criticism and significant damage to the Samsung brand, has become paramount for not only one of Korea’s biggest companies, but the country’s legal and maritime authorities as well.

The international maritime community has championed time and again that the Hebei Two’s initial response in avoiding the collision and their response to the spill (which was not of their making) was absolutely correct.

The original Korean Court agreed with this in the first ruling (until Samsung and the prosecutor objected) and stated that the cause of the accident was the breaking of the second-hand Samsung crane runner wire (which was never intended to be used for towing) between the lead tug and the barge.

While 10,500 tonnes of oil escaped the Hebei Spirit, it should never be forgotten that there were over 260,000 tonnes of oil aboard which could have been lost into Korean waters, if not for the actions of the Captain and crew in keeping the ship afloat and minimising the oil spilled.

The international maritime community must not stop protesting the miscarriage of justice done to the Hebei Two.

Contact your local Korean Consulate and tell them to


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

International Maritime Industry Asks: Are Korean Ports Safe?

In response to the injustice metered out to the Hebei Two, and their continued detention in Korea, the international maritime industry is focusing on the possibility of launching a worldwide campaign to publicise Korean ports being considered unsafe for tanker crews using international standard best practices and safety training procedures

The international maritime community argues, and rightly so, that the Hebei Two followed world’s best maritime safety practice, as outlined in the international standard manuals for tanker operations, to the letter. The Korean maritime authorities, however, have punished them for doing so.

The fact that they received criminal convictions from a Korean Court for their actions would indicate that Korea is opposed to these internationally accepted and adopted maritime safety practices for tankers at sea.

Does Korea have its own rules and regulations regarding safe operating procedures for tankers, acting independently from the rest of the world?

The Hebei Two case would suggest that this might be the case. This being so, the international maritime community is therefore asking the very obvious question of whether Korean ports are safe for international tankers and their crews?

A further question should be: “What safety regulations and standards for international tankers apply in Korean ports, if not those which the rest of the world use?”

While the campaign may never eventuate, the fact it is being considered is enough to highlight the serious and long-term damage which has been done to Korea’s reputation and that of its maritime authority, most notably the KMTS, its judicial system and one of its largest corporate citizens, Samsung.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Remand Hearing by Daejeon Appeal could take another half-year. The Hebei Two Need Your Support - Today!

The international shipping industry has a chance to take a great step forward by demonstrating their unified support against the injustice shown to the Hebei Two.

The appeal to have the existing bail conditions amended, by having the exit ban imposed on the Hebei Two lifted and allowing the two men to return home while awaiting the remand hearing, seems set to once again fall on deaf ears.

There is a chance, however, to press the issue by appealing to the Daejeon Appeals Court. We are asking that the Remand Hearings be heard within the next two to three weeks, in a single hearing, so a swift declaratory judgment can be issued.

This would allow the Hebei Two to leave Korea within a month. However, this procedure would be unusual as it normally takes between three to six months to schedule and complete such a Remand Hearing.

That is why the Hebei Two need your support! How?

By sending a fax, respectfully requesting the Court to expedite the hearing and letting the Hebei Two return to their homes after one and a half years of detention in Korea. Please see the draft below as an example or use your own words.

Fax your letter of support to the:

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Korea
Fax: +822 536 0375.

To the Chief Justice of Korea

We strongly object to the one and a half year stay the Korean Authorities have imposed on the Master and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit. Both officers have young families and have complied fully with all demands made on them, including cash, corporate and diplomatic guarantees.

Despite this, they have still not been permitted to visit their homes in India, even on a temporary basis.

They are not criminals.

We hope that this honourable Court will expedite the remand hearing and allow the Master and Chief Officer to return to their homes, families and communities at the earliest opportunity.

The continued exit ban on the Master and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit has long been noticed by all in the international maritime industry and all of us, regardless of nationality, have noticed the profound and serious effect - with international reverberations - that this case is having on the global shipping industry.

We humbly ask you to please expedite this last Remand Hearing and bring this case to a close, without further delay.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Company name

Show the Daejeon District Court that the international maritime community cares. That after one and a half years of enforced stay in Korea, the shipping community, worldwide, has not forgotten the injustice metered out to the Hebei Two when they were accused of criminal acts for:

a/ avoiding a collision between the Samsung Marine Spread and their vessel,

b/ prioritising the safety of the crew and seaworthiness of their vessel – above that of attempting to minimize the oil spill, one breached tank at a time while the out of control Samsung Barge bounced along the hull of the VLCC in heavy seas, strong winds and in the dark hours of the morning.

Fax the Supreme Court of Korea today and demand a speedy and just conclusion to this highly politicised case that has dragged on for far too long over the past one and a half years.

Print the above draft, or words to that effect, on your company letterhead and fax to the Korean Supreme Court.

Then, please circulate this blog among your colleagues.

Let the international maritime community flood the faxes of the Supreme Court of Korea!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Hebei Two not criminals!

Korean Government must step in to reinstate Korea’s reputation as an international shipping nation, adhering to international rules and regulations (in which Korea was part of the formation of many) and bring justice and fair play back to Korea’s shipping industry.

Korea can not and should not be seen as a rogue Nation, making up its own laws and regulations depending on individual situations and it may affect large Korean conglomerates. This is not the time and place for politicizing events and actions that affect a whole nation.

Last month’s Korean Supreme Court’s decision, which endorsed the erroneous and biased KMST Report could effectively end the careers of two outstanding maritime officers in their prime. Both were convicted on two criminal charges by the Court of Appeal (after being found innocent the first time), with much being made of the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST) Report (on the investigation of the incident investigation) first published on September 4 and again on December 4.

The industry should not allow the incorrect findings of this KMST report – on which the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court relied so much in handing down their judgments – to stand uncontested.

In the KMST report, the actions the Hebei Two supposedly failed to take to minimize the oil spilled, is against all conventional tanker safety practice and training, worldwide – except maybe Korea. Doing anything different to what the global shipping industry deems safe and correct – would be a criminal action – not the other way around.

This statement has been endorsed by just about every independent shipping organisation in the world – from Intertanko, to ITF, ICS, HKSOA, InterManager, the Nautical Institute and more, as well as a letter of protest, written to the President of the ROK signed by 118 CEOs representing shipping companies all over the world.

Can Korea be correct in their actions and every other shipping nation in the world wrong? We don’t think so.

The other main point of contention and what the Korean Courts have used to back-up their face-saving judgments are the actions taken by the Master and crew regarding the lookout and actions taken to avoid the collision.

The KMST Report and the Korean courts seem to have totally ignored the points that firstly, the Hebei Spirit was the first to notify the Korean authorities of possible problems with the Samsung Marine Spread and secondly that the collision with the Samsung Marine Spread was avoided.

There was no collision with the Samsung Marine Spread. The collision was with the Samsung Barge alone – as a result of a faulty, pre-used, 10 years old wire, which was not a sold as a towing wire in the first place – breaking from the lead tug, in the dark, leaving the Barge totally out of control in rough seas and 6-7 gale force winds – after the Samsung Marine Spread had passed across the Hebei Spirit’s bow by some 200 metres .

Co-incidentally, Samsung’s appeal document was almost identical in points covered and assumptions made to the KMST document, both times. As one the world’s leading shipbuilders, this made the omissions and obvious errors most surprising, unless the two appeal documents were prepared in tandem.

Despite the fact that further jail time seems unlikely for the Hebei Two – with the most serious of the two charges, involving jail time, having been overturned by the Supreme Court – the remaining criminal charge on pollution will mean that visa issues and the stigma of a criminal conviction will most likely mean the end of the Hebei Two’s seagoing career.

It is only in the last few years that Governments of countries with a major pollution incident have started to criminalise such incidents – too often with an obvious motive of squeezing more funds out of the owner (of the ship carrying the oil), his insurance company and the international community to cover the cost of clean-up, compensation and re-building of communities that have been affected by such a spill.

Yet again, it is time the international community voiced its concerns over the miscarriage of justice in this matter. The Hebei Two have already been incarcerated in Korea for nearly 1.5 years – how much longer do they have to suffer?

As an international community, the shipping industry needs to continue to show more support. Please pass this blog to all of your shipmates and associates, no matter what nationality. Make your support known – contact your local Korean Consulate and show them how we feel, just a few words will do. How about:


Friday, 24 April 2009

V. Ships calls Korean Supreme Court ruling an “on-going face saving exercise”

And they are right. The Korean Supreme Court decision that the charge against the Hebei Two of willful destruction of property was “unfounded” but the final judgment now rests with the Korean Appellate Court is a classic case of legal face saving.

In other words, making a ruling while not making a decision, or saying yes while saying no. Perhaps it is best put by one industry insider, who has closely monitored the case, who told Lloyd’s List “it seems the Supreme Court has passed the buck – backwards.”

Despite the ruling making a further jail sentence for the Master and C/O almost impossible, the decision means the Hebei Two have to reface the Appeals Court, with new judges, while remaining in Korea until the hearing, which could take up to three months.

The mangers of the Hebei Spirit and employers of the Hebei Two, V.Ships is not impressed. In a statement released shortly after the decision, Bob Bishop, CEO of V.Ships said “the decision was a great disappointment to all those in the shipping industry who have been calling for the immediate release of the Hebei officers for months.”

V.Ships said it will be seeking further clarity on the ruling and at the same time, working hard to get to the Hebei Two back to India and their families while they wait for the date of the Appeals Court hearing to be set.

This could mean a further appeal against the original bail terms, so they can be adjusted to allow the Hebei Two to finally return home.

“Our main concern is the repatriation of the Indian Master and the C/O to their families,” Bob Bishop stated.

“We will not just stand by and let this ongoing face saving exercise in Korea destroy the lives and careers of two highly professional seafarers.”

He added that he knows every thinking person in the global shipping industry supports this stance.

What remains unclear in this drawn out legal saga, which by now has truly become a “face saving exercise” for Korean jurisprudence, is will the original oil pollution charges against the Hebei Two be upheld and why should these be a criminal offence, as there was no intent and certainly no premeditation?

It was glaringly obvious by its omission from the Supreme Court ruling that the Hebei Two might still face fines and a criminal record for the original pollution charges.

How any mariner can receive a criminal conviction for pollution offences when they have safely anchored their vessel and are hit by an out of control crane barge is beyond any legal reasoning.

Except, it would seem, in Korea.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Korea’s Supreme Court hands down Hebei Spirit judgement

In a landmark decision in the highest Court of the land, the charge of “willful destruction of property”, against the Master and C/O of the Hebei Spirit was considered by the Court, to be “unfounded” and sent back to the Appellate Court for a final judgement.

It is thought that based on this decision, a jail sentence should be out of the question.

However, it will mean the Master and C/O of the Hebei Spirit (currently on bail) may not have their travel ban lifted until after the Appellate Court has handed down their decision, which could take up to a couple of months –as it will be conducted with new judges for a start.

One question that does arise is : what sort of law would make it possible for a third party to hand down a jail sentence for you destructing your own property (the Hebei Spirit), without the owners having a say??

Over the next couple of days, the written judgement will be further dissected and will bring you the legal opinon – as well as the emotional ones.

For all parties, the main concern is of course the repatriation of the Indian Master and C/O to their families. They have now been held in Seoul 17 months and now, even with the worst charges being called “unfounded” by the highest court in the (Korean) land – the Korean Courts still will not let them go home.

Still to be seen is whether there will be any criminal conviction of either Master of C/O, as even a conviction with a fine, will make life difficult for further duties on-board, as many western countries will not issue visas to anyone with a criminal conviction.

Have Korea destroyed the career of two fine, professional officers – in their prime?

Have your say and let us have your opinion ..

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Global shipping industry primed for decision on Hebei Spirit Two, due to be handed down by Korean Supreme Court on Thursday, April 23rd at 2.30pm

Owners and managers of the world’s Merchant Fleet are gearing up for the possibility of serious ‘industrial’ action – should the Korean Courts fail to find the Hebei Spirit Two innocent of all charges.

Never before have the global maritime associations, as well as individual industry leaders, been so united in expressing their opinion, forcefully and as one voice. From the ITF, to committees of the IMO to 118 individual shipping company leaders (signing a letter of protest submitted to the Korean Consulate in London for forwarding to the Korean President), the industry is united in their conviction of innocence of both Master and C/O of the Hebei Spirit.

The Indian shipping industry stands united behind the two seafarers and have produced an excellent report outlining the incident and why the two seafarers are innocent.
The Indian Government has also given their full support to the shipping industry and we believe there are moves afoot, on a Government to Government basis, from both the Indian and Chinese Governments to make official representation on behalf of the two seafarers.

Other organisations that have openly protested and been highly critical of the ‘criminalisation’ of the Hebei Two, while commending the Master and C/O for their prompt and correct action after having been hit repeatedly by the Samsung Crane Barge, have been the Nautical Institute, Hong Kong Ship Owners Association, ITF, ICS, Intertanko, International Group of P+I Clubs and various committees of the IMO.

The Korean Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday is hard to predict, but some possible outcomes could be:

1. The Appeal Court decision and subsequent jail sentence is rejected by the Supreme Court – the Hebei Two are found innocent of all charges and the seafarers go home. An optimistic scenario, as it is unusual for the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's decision, yet the only really acceptable result for the shipping industry as a whole.

2. The Supreme Court finds that the Appeal Court’s decision to impose a prison sentence was illegal and overturns the prison sentence. In this case, the question would be – does that automatically mean the charge of negligence will also be overturned?

If not, the whole issue of negligence may have to be re-considered by the Appeal Court – in which case there may be more hearings, which may require the two seafarers to remain in Korea.

3. A totally disastrous result, for Korea’s shipping industry as well as the Hebei Two – would be if the two seafarers are found guilty as a result of the Supreme Court dismissing their appeal in its entirety and upholding the decision of the Appeals Court as a whole. The criminal case would be over and the Hebei Two would find themselves in jail by the end the day.

Totally unacceptable

Most interested parties feel that the Supreme Court will try and appease all parties – no jail sentence but a conviction on some aspects of the criminal charges.
Any conviction would, however, end the careers of two outstanding officers in their prime (the Master was 39 at the time of the incident and the C/O four years younger) – a complete travesty of justice.

Have your say and support the Hebei Two by writing to the Korean Government today – demand justice, not only for the Hebei Two, but for the thousands of seafarers still to sail in Korean waters – if they dare - to trust their luck and the Korean legal system in case of any small incident!

Find your nearest Korean Consulate

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hebei Spirit accident caused by Samsung tug’s decision to sail in extreme weather, Hong Kong Marine Department’s finds.

In a publicly released statement on the Hong Kong flagged Hebei Spirit incident in South Korea in December 2007, the Hong Kong Marine Department has found the tug boat operator’s decision to sail in hazardous weather caused the accident.

The three page Shipping Information Note, titled Safe Towage at Sea and recently released on the Hong Kong Marine Department’s website, has found that the probable cause of the Hebei Spirit accident was the decision to commence a towing voyage of a large crane barge in hazardous weather.

The Hong Kong Marine Department’s own investigation into the incident has “revealed that the decision for the tugs and the crane barge to commence the towing voyage when adverse weather had been forecast is the main probable cause of the accident.”

The shipping note also stated three additional, contributory factors, to the accident. These were that “the towing voyage was not carried out in accordance with the conditions stipulated in the towing survey certificate; towing wire was not properly maintained; the tugs did not alert the local Vessel Traffic Service and the nearby vessels when they lost control of the navigation.”

Lessons Learnt

Of interest to all ship owners, managers, operators, masters and offices, who received the shipping note, is the lessons learnt. The Hong Kong Marine Department highlights the fact that the Master in charge of the tugs underestimated the severity of the rough weather, as well as its likely impact on the towing convoy.

“He failed to take notice of the rough weather that might further deteriorate during the voyage,” the report states, adding that “the Master should have considered postponing the towing voyage until more favourable weather was expected.”

Because this did not happen, the report found that “the towing capability of the tugs could not overcome the weather conditions during the voyage.” In this instance, the tugs were towing a crane barge carrying a floating crane 140 meters high. The report states that “this large deck structure could induce large wind resistance when under strong wind conditions.”

Other observations arising from the Hong Kong Marine Department’s investigation are that after losing control of the navigation the Master of the tugs failed to immediately notify the local Vessel Traffic Centre about the “seriousness of the situation”.

Also, the wire which broke was found to be a used crane runner wire, not a dedicated towing wire. This crane runner wire had been in storage “for some time” and just before it snapped, the tug had increased its speed. The report states that “an increase of speed in rough sea conditions might exert additional strain at the towing wire…This would become critical if the towing wire was already pulled at its limit.”

Hebei Spirit’s Master and crew commended

The Hebei Spirit Master and crew’s attempt at reducing the pollution immediately after the accident was noted. Once the 140 metre high floating crane had finished bouncing along the hull of the Hebei Spirit (which took around 25 minutes) the crew commenced transferring oil from the damaged tanks. As well, collision mats were rigged over the damaged tanks and ballast was pumped to the starboard ballast tanks so the vessel would list to starboard, lowering the oil level in the damaged tanks.

“These remedial actions appeared to have reduced a certain amount of oil spillage and have fully complied with the provisions as laid down in the shipboard oil pollution emergency plan,” the shipping note states.

More to come…stay tuned

Despite the fact the Hong Kong Marine Department has concluded its official accident investigation into the Hebei Spirit incident, it will not publish its full accident report until the legal case of the Hebei Two has finished in South Korea.

Perhaps this decision is yet another indication of just how politically sensitive this case has become?

Monday, 30 March 2009

V.Ships responds to Korean official’s comments that the Hebei Two withheld information and manipulated evidence

V.Ships, the technical managers of the Hebei Spirit, were “horrified” at assertions that the Hebei Two were detained for withholding information and tampering with evidence, stating that this is “manifestly untrue”.

In a detailed press statement issued by V.Ships, the company acknowledged the fact Mr Oh had realised the damage his comments could cause and had welcomed his personal apology to the president of V.Ships. The statement then went on to explain why Mr Oh’s original comments were incorrect.

V.Ships further outlined the “many and lengthy and repeated interviews” the Hebei Two underwent with the Korean Maritime Police (KMP) after the incident. Indeed, V.Ships likens these interviews to interrogations, given that they were “conducted late into the night…which would be considered oppressive in most other jurisdictions”.

V.Ships maintains that this pattern of investigation “was repeated by the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST), which went to extreme lengths to find fault with the actions of the Hebei Two”.

V.Ships says that despite this the “Hebei Two co-operated fully with the Korean authorities throughout the lengthy investigations and both have told nothing but the truth.”

In response to the accusation that the Hebei Two tampered with evidence, V.Ships recounts that “the hard drive from the VDR of the Hebei Spirit was subjected to close examination by computer experts from the manufacturers of the VDR in Denmark, in the presence of…Korean authorities.”

This “examination confirmed that the VDR had not been tampered with in any way…”

What is readily admitted by both V.Ships and Captain Chawla, as it was at the time of the lengthy investigations, was that Captain Chawla had not activated the back-up of the VDR on the day of the incident.

V.Ships has repeatedly maintained that this “occurred because he (Captain Chawla) gave his full attention and priority to saving the ship and stopping the leaking oil as the Samsung crane bounced along the hull of the Hebei Spirit – from bow to stern.”
Given the circumstances, this course of action is completely understandable. His first priority was ensuring the safety of his crew and the seaworthiness of his ship. Indeed, it was highly commended, not only by V.Ships but also by independent maritime organisations like Intertanko.

Unfortunately, however, this situation with the VDR equipment has become a main focus of attack on the Hebei Two, in what V.Ships labels a “malicious, misguided and unsuccessful attempt to convince the Korean Courts that there had been some foul play.”

This is despite the fact that the data that would have been on the VDR was duplicated in other data recording devices, by both the ship and the Korean coastal authorities.

Lastly, V. Ships commented on Mr Oh’s assertions that the western media were not aware of all the facts in the case.

The company maintains that any facts not known by the western media are not directly related to any actions taken by the master and crew of the Hebei Two. Other facts may not have been known to the western media because the mangers and owners of the Hebei Spirit “have largely refrained from commenting in any great detail about all that has gone on” and “have instead, quietly placed our trust in the independence and integrity of the Korean judicial system.”

Mr Oh’s serious allegations, it would seem, have given V.Ships little choice but to rigorously defend the honesty and integrity of the Hebei Two.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Korean official says Hebei Two detained for withholding information but does not elaborate

After 16 months, a Korean official has revealed that the Hebei Two were detained for withholding information, but precisely what information they withheld from the Korean authorities, and why, remains a secret.

The master and chief officer of the Hebei Spirit were charged because they withheld information, not for creating the situation that resulted in Korea’s largest oil spill, according to Korean Register and current IACS Chairman, Kong-Gyun Oh.

Talking to Lloyd’s List, while attending the 24th Annual CMA Shipping Conference in Connecticut, Mr Oh said the two men “did not tell the truth when they were investigated by the judicial branch of the Korean court system and were detained on these grounds, not because they were found guilty of causing the Hebei Spirit accident.”

Mr Oh added that the seafarers “hid some information that was revealed to be untrue and they manipulated some VDR information.”

Mr Oh failed, however, to explain exactly what information the two men kept secret, why they did so and how the withheld information was subsequently found to be false. Mr Oh also did not elaborate on what VDR information they manipulated, how this was achieved and why.

Mr Oh did say that the western media were not fully appraised of all the facts in the case.
Given Mr Oh’s failure to provide any supporting information or evidence for his statements it would be surprising if anyone, let alone the western media, were fully across all the facts in this case.

In light of the above, Mr Oh’s comment that he was now trying to pressure the Korean government and industry to change laws to ensure “this kind of ill treatment of seafarers does not happen” seems rather cynical.

* * *

In an interesting side development, Dr Peter Swift, MD of independent tankers organisation Intertanko has said the case clearly demonstrates the need for countries to ratify international conventions. At the time of the spill, the Korean government had not signed the supplementary fund convention and therefore did not have access to the maximum amount of compensation otherwise available to them.