Monday, 18 May 2009

Samsung must ask itself – was it worth it?

Samsung’s part in the Hebei Spirit saga has not been (and may never be) fully released to the public, but allegations of offers of gifts and employment by Samsung to the crew from the Hebei Spirit have been widely known for some time.

Needless to say these allegations have been totally ignored by both the Korean courts and Government. Why? Such actions are criminal offences. Whereas, two officers avoiding a collision and then working without sleep for two days to minimise oil spilled onto Korean beaches are not criminal offences. They have been, however, classified as such by the Korean Courts.

Is the face-saving exercise of no jail term, but a criminal conviction, for the Hebei Two simply for Samsung’s benefit? Or does the Korean shipping industry see it as a proud moment of righteousness for their country?

It could be argued that Samsung will one day, if they haven’t already, regret their decision to ensure that someone else shared responsibility for Korea’s biggest environmental accident?

Samsung needs to a weigh up if doing so has been worth the serious damage done to their brand globally (particularly in India), their corporate credibility and their reputation in the international maritime community. Likewise, the Korean maritime authorities.

We think not.

One thing is for sure. Once Samsung committed to appealing against the original court decision, which exonerated the Hebei Two, there has been no turning back. Saving face, despite increasing international criticism and significant damage to the Samsung brand, has become paramount for not only one of Korea’s biggest companies, but the country’s legal and maritime authorities as well.

The international maritime community has championed time and again that the Hebei Two’s initial response in avoiding the collision and their response to the spill (which was not of their making) was absolutely correct.

The original Korean Court agreed with this in the first ruling (until Samsung and the prosecutor objected) and stated that the cause of the accident was the breaking of the second-hand Samsung crane runner wire (which was never intended to be used for towing) between the lead tug and the barge.

While 10,500 tonnes of oil escaped the Hebei Spirit, it should never be forgotten that there were over 260,000 tonnes of oil aboard which could have been lost into Korean waters, if not for the actions of the Captain and crew in keeping the ship afloat and minimising the oil spilled.

The international maritime community must not stop protesting the miscarriage of justice done to the Hebei Two.

Contact your local Korean Consulate and tell them to


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

International Maritime Industry Asks: Are Korean Ports Safe?

In response to the injustice metered out to the Hebei Two, and their continued detention in Korea, the international maritime industry is focusing on the possibility of launching a worldwide campaign to publicise Korean ports being considered unsafe for tanker crews using international standard best practices and safety training procedures

The international maritime community argues, and rightly so, that the Hebei Two followed world’s best maritime safety practice, as outlined in the international standard manuals for tanker operations, to the letter. The Korean maritime authorities, however, have punished them for doing so.

The fact that they received criminal convictions from a Korean Court for their actions would indicate that Korea is opposed to these internationally accepted and adopted maritime safety practices for tankers at sea.

Does Korea have its own rules and regulations regarding safe operating procedures for tankers, acting independently from the rest of the world?

The Hebei Two case would suggest that this might be the case. This being so, the international maritime community is therefore asking the very obvious question of whether Korean ports are safe for international tankers and their crews?

A further question should be: “What safety regulations and standards for international tankers apply in Korean ports, if not those which the rest of the world use?”

While the campaign may never eventuate, the fact it is being considered is enough to highlight the serious and long-term damage which has been done to Korea’s reputation and that of its maritime authority, most notably the KMTS, its judicial system and one of its largest corporate citizens, Samsung.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Remand Hearing by Daejeon Appeal could take another half-year. The Hebei Two Need Your Support - Today!

The international shipping industry has a chance to take a great step forward by demonstrating their unified support against the injustice shown to the Hebei Two.

The appeal to have the existing bail conditions amended, by having the exit ban imposed on the Hebei Two lifted and allowing the two men to return home while awaiting the remand hearing, seems set to once again fall on deaf ears.

There is a chance, however, to press the issue by appealing to the Daejeon Appeals Court. We are asking that the Remand Hearings be heard within the next two to three weeks, in a single hearing, so a swift declaratory judgment can be issued.

This would allow the Hebei Two to leave Korea within a month. However, this procedure would be unusual as it normally takes between three to six months to schedule and complete such a Remand Hearing.

That is why the Hebei Two need your support! How?

By sending a fax, respectfully requesting the Court to expedite the hearing and letting the Hebei Two return to their homes after one and a half years of detention in Korea. Please see the draft below as an example or use your own words.

Fax your letter of support to the:

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Korea
Fax: +822 536 0375.

To the Chief Justice of Korea

We strongly object to the one and a half year stay the Korean Authorities have imposed on the Master and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit. Both officers have young families and have complied fully with all demands made on them, including cash, corporate and diplomatic guarantees.

Despite this, they have still not been permitted to visit their homes in India, even on a temporary basis.

They are not criminals.

We hope that this honourable Court will expedite the remand hearing and allow the Master and Chief Officer to return to their homes, families and communities at the earliest opportunity.

The continued exit ban on the Master and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit has long been noticed by all in the international maritime industry and all of us, regardless of nationality, have noticed the profound and serious effect - with international reverberations - that this case is having on the global shipping industry.

We humbly ask you to please expedite this last Remand Hearing and bring this case to a close, without further delay.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Company name

Show the Daejeon District Court that the international maritime community cares. That after one and a half years of enforced stay in Korea, the shipping community, worldwide, has not forgotten the injustice metered out to the Hebei Two when they were accused of criminal acts for:

a/ avoiding a collision between the Samsung Marine Spread and their vessel,

b/ prioritising the safety of the crew and seaworthiness of their vessel – above that of attempting to minimize the oil spill, one breached tank at a time while the out of control Samsung Barge bounced along the hull of the VLCC in heavy seas, strong winds and in the dark hours of the morning.

Fax the Supreme Court of Korea today and demand a speedy and just conclusion to this highly politicised case that has dragged on for far too long over the past one and a half years.

Print the above draft, or words to that effect, on your company letterhead and fax to the Korean Supreme Court.

Then, please circulate this blog among your colleagues.

Let the international maritime community flood the faxes of the Supreme Court of Korea!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Hebei Two not criminals!

Korean Government must step in to reinstate Korea’s reputation as an international shipping nation, adhering to international rules and regulations (in which Korea was part of the formation of many) and bring justice and fair play back to Korea’s shipping industry.

Korea can not and should not be seen as a rogue Nation, making up its own laws and regulations depending on individual situations and it may affect large Korean conglomerates. This is not the time and place for politicizing events and actions that affect a whole nation.

Last month’s Korean Supreme Court’s decision, which endorsed the erroneous and biased KMST Report could effectively end the careers of two outstanding maritime officers in their prime. Both were convicted on two criminal charges by the Court of Appeal (after being found innocent the first time), with much being made of the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST) Report (on the investigation of the incident investigation) first published on September 4 and again on December 4.

The industry should not allow the incorrect findings of this KMST report – on which the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court relied so much in handing down their judgments – to stand uncontested.

In the KMST report, the actions the Hebei Two supposedly failed to take to minimize the oil spilled, is against all conventional tanker safety practice and training, worldwide – except maybe Korea. Doing anything different to what the global shipping industry deems safe and correct – would be a criminal action – not the other way around.

This statement has been endorsed by just about every independent shipping organisation in the world – from Intertanko, to ITF, ICS, HKSOA, InterManager, the Nautical Institute and more, as well as a letter of protest, written to the President of the ROK signed by 118 CEOs representing shipping companies all over the world.

Can Korea be correct in their actions and every other shipping nation in the world wrong? We don’t think so.

The other main point of contention and what the Korean Courts have used to back-up their face-saving judgments are the actions taken by the Master and crew regarding the lookout and actions taken to avoid the collision.

The KMST Report and the Korean courts seem to have totally ignored the points that firstly, the Hebei Spirit was the first to notify the Korean authorities of possible problems with the Samsung Marine Spread and secondly that the collision with the Samsung Marine Spread was avoided.

There was no collision with the Samsung Marine Spread. The collision was with the Samsung Barge alone – as a result of a faulty, pre-used, 10 years old wire, which was not a sold as a towing wire in the first place – breaking from the lead tug, in the dark, leaving the Barge totally out of control in rough seas and 6-7 gale force winds – after the Samsung Marine Spread had passed across the Hebei Spirit’s bow by some 200 metres .

Co-incidentally, Samsung’s appeal document was almost identical in points covered and assumptions made to the KMST document, both times. As one the world’s leading shipbuilders, this made the omissions and obvious errors most surprising, unless the two appeal documents were prepared in tandem.

Despite the fact that further jail time seems unlikely for the Hebei Two – with the most serious of the two charges, involving jail time, having been overturned by the Supreme Court – the remaining criminal charge on pollution will mean that visa issues and the stigma of a criminal conviction will most likely mean the end of the Hebei Two’s seagoing career.

It is only in the last few years that Governments of countries with a major pollution incident have started to criminalise such incidents – too often with an obvious motive of squeezing more funds out of the owner (of the ship carrying the oil), his insurance company and the international community to cover the cost of clean-up, compensation and re-building of communities that have been affected by such a spill.

Yet again, it is time the international community voiced its concerns over the miscarriage of justice in this matter. The Hebei Two have already been incarcerated in Korea for nearly 1.5 years – how much longer do they have to suffer?

As an international community, the shipping industry needs to continue to show more support. Please pass this blog to all of your shipmates and associates, no matter what nationality. Make your support known – contact your local Korean Consulate and show them how we feel, just a few words will do. How about: