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:


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