And they are right. The Korean Supreme Court decision that the charge against the Hebei Two of willful destruction of property was “unfounded” but the final judgment now rests with the Korean Appellate Court is a classic case of legal face saving.
In other words, making a ruling while not making a decision, or saying yes while saying no. Perhaps it is best put by one industry insider, who has closely monitored the case, who told Lloyd’s List “it seems the Supreme Court has passed the buck – backwards.”
Despite the ruling making a further jail sentence for the Master and C/O almost impossible, the decision means the Hebei Two have to reface the Appeals Court, with new judges, while remaining in Korea until the hearing, which could take up to three months.
The mangers of the Hebei Spirit and employers of the Hebei Two, V.Ships is not impressed. In a statement released shortly after the decision, Bob Bishop, CEO of V.Ships said “the decision was a great disappointment to all those in the shipping industry who have been calling for the immediate release of the Hebei officers for months.”
V.Ships said it will be seeking further clarity on the ruling and at the same time, working hard to get to the Hebei Two back to India and their families while they wait for the date of the Appeals Court hearing to be set.
This could mean a further appeal against the original bail terms, so they can be adjusted to allow the Hebei Two to finally return home.
“Our main concern is the repatriation of the Indian Master and the C/O to their families,” Bob Bishop stated.
“We will not just stand by and let this ongoing face saving exercise in Korea destroy the lives and careers of two highly professional seafarers.”
He added that he knows every thinking person in the global shipping industry supports this stance.
What remains unclear in this drawn out legal saga, which by now has truly become a “face saving exercise” for Korean jurisprudence, is will the original oil pollution charges against the Hebei Two be upheld and why should these be a criminal offence, as there was no intent and certainly no premeditation?
It was glaringly obvious by its omission from the Supreme Court ruling that the Hebei Two might still face fines and a criminal record for the original pollution charges.
How any mariner can receive a criminal conviction for pollution offences when they have safely anchored their vessel and are hit by an out of control crane barge is beyond any legal reasoning.
Except, it would seem, in Korea.