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.

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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.