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.
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