Monday, 17 November 2008

Dark days for Maritime Industry

When anchored ship blamed for collision and criminal charges filed against Master and Chief Officer – then after having been found innocent once, facing 2nd hearing after being detained in Korea for 12 months.

The Hebei Spirit incident occurred on December 7th, 2007; in which a VLCC, the Hebei Spirit, a Hong Kong owned and flagged ship was anchored off the Korean coast overnight, waiting to discharge at a Korean refinery. At 7.00am, while it was still dark, a Samsung owned large crane barge was being towed by two towing tugs and 1 support tug at the rear (known collectively as a “Marine Spread” - MS). The Samsung crane barge was not self-propelled and smashed into the port side of the VLCC, breaching 3 tanks and causing Korea’s biggest oil spill ever, of around 10,500 tonnes of crude oil.

Weather conditions were rough and beyond the navigational limits prescribed and the MS should never have left port.

Nevertheless, the rough weather alone should not have caused the MS to have any difficulty manoeuvring clear of the anchored Hebei Spirit in the first place. Having put themselves in a bad position, the MS then showed exceptionally poor judgment and seamanship skills in trying to manoeuvre the MS dangerously close across the bows of the Hebei Spirit. In contrast,

If not for the good judgement and quick action of the Master of the Hebei Spirit, by deciding to slack back on the anchor cable thereby increasing the passing distance, the Master avoided the first possibility of a collision..

After the MS had passed across the bow of the Hebei Spirit, by some 200 metres, the tow wire of one of the Samsung tug boats snapped. During the initial hearing evidence was presented that showed the snapped wire was an old luffing wire which had previously been used on the crane, and which was unsuitable for use as a tow wire. It was also too short, and the towing arrangements were improper with no shock absorber.

Under the existing weather conditions, one tug alone was unable to control the crane barge and within some 8 minutes, in dark and stormy conditions the crane barge was pushed by wind and tide into the port side of the Hebei Spirit, The crane barge then proceeded to smash into the port side hull from bow to stern – in the process holing 3 full cargo tanks on the port side.

The Master and C/O of Hebei Spirit are facing criminal charges for not getting out of the way of the MS and for not doing more to prevent the 10,500 tonnes of oil that spilled into the Korean sea.

Having been found innocent once (back in June), Samsung and the Prosecutor’s Office appealed against the innocent verdict, and during the Appeal hearings have come up with no new factual evidence. Instead they have relied on an official report by the Incheon Maritime Safety Tribunal (IMST), a branch of the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST) – information contained therein which also happened to be the basis of the Reasons for Appeal lodged by both Samsung and the Korean Prosecutor’s Office and which were lodged weeks before the IMST report was made public..

We hope that the Korean Appeal Court hand down a repeat of the previous judgement – that of being innocent of any criminal charges. Anything else would be a travesty of justice and increase the difficulties of the massive shortage of qualified and experienced Officers the industry is facing.

After all who wants to sail the oceans never knowing when you might face criminal charges (just like a real criminal) for actions and consequences that may have been completely out of your control – as in this instance.

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