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.