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.


  1. This appears to be incorrect and has been corrected by a letter from the KR Chairman in today's Lloyd's List. It reads

    Misunderstanding over comments on Hebei Two
    Thursday 26 March 2009

    From Oh Kong-gyun

    SIR, The article “Treatment of Chawla and Chetan was regrettable”, published in Lloyd’s List (March 25, 2009) contains a statement I’d like to correct.

    The article suggests that it was my view that the master and chief officer of the Hebei Spirit were jailed because they had been found guilty of manipulating information. I made this comment in the overall context of explaining that there were a number of misconceptions surrounding this unfortunate case, particularly in Korea. I was simply trying to relay these as I understood them and it was not my intention to state them as my personal view; they are not.

    As an ex-seafarer, I sympathise deeply with the plight of the two officers and I have been doing all I can within Korean government and industry circles to ensure that all seafarers are treated fairly and that changes to relevant laws are made so that such a situation never occurs again. I apologise to the two gentlemen and their families if the article caused concern.

    Oh Kong-gyunChairman and chief executiveKorean Register of Shipping

  2. Thanks Anonymous, we were aware of the letter too. However, to us, it just makes a strange tale even stranger as Mr Oh tries to distance himself from his own comments.

    We think it is an extremely fast back-pedal by the Chief Executive of the Korean Register of Shipping. Mr Oh is now saying that there was a misunderstanding regarding his statement that the Hebei Two were detained because they withheld information and tampered with evidence.

    Mr Oh made the original comments in a Lloyd’s List article on Tuesday, March 24. Two days later, Thursday March 26, Mr Oh’s letter was published in Lloyd’s List, claiming that the comments were not his personal view.

    The questions beg asking; if they weren’t his personal view then whose were they and why did he make them?

    In his letter, Mr Oh explains that he only made the “comment in the overall context of explaining that there were a number of misconceptions surrounding this unfortunate case, particularly in Korea.”

    Did Mr Oh think his serious allegations would help to clear misconceptions? We think he just created them.

    Justice for The Hebei Spirit

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