The jailed Captain and First Officer of the Hebei Spirit have said that their 551 day detention in South Korea could have positive repercussions for a shipping industry working to rid itself of the scourge of criminalisation.
In an exclusive interview with SMI, Captain Jasprit Chawla and Syam Chetan, also expressed their gratitude to the global shipping industry for the support they received.
Speaking of their experiences on returning home after being exonerated of causing destruction to property, Captain Chawla admitted that both men felt absolutely overwhelmed by the unification and unprecedented support of the shipping industry throughout the entire case.
He said: “It is a really great feeling. I think it is one of the best days of my life to be back home. Words are not sufficient to express our happiness about how the industry has been so much behind us; I never expected such a thing to happen.”
Captain Chawla acknowledged that in spite of the frustration and distress they felt throughout the duration of their unfair detainment, their hope of returning home was boosted by the unrivalled defence and widespread championing of support they received from the shipping industry.
He also said he looked forward to a well-deserved rest and some quality time spent with his family and friends, however, he remained undecided about returning to a career at sea in light of what has happened. Convincing his family about his potential return to sea was his greatest challenge.
While confessing that there is an element of risk in the possible reoccurrence of such an incident, Captain Chawla said: “It’s very shameful on the part of the Koreans in what they did, it was very biased.
“But seeing the support from V.Ships and the rest of the shipping community is unbelievably encouraging. How the industry and the media handled the whole incident and how they supported us, if something (god-forbid) happened again, I know everybody is there and they will help us.
“I think the industry should remain as united as they are at present. I don’t think anybody can ever criminalise any seafarers in the future because they know that the whole community is united against it. Something will definitely come of this.
“With the community working together legislation will definitely come – this matter will be brought up with the IMO and other organisations, and we can definitely pressurise the whole international community to pass a legislation,” he said.
Captain Chawla added: “It has created a benchmark, the industry has already been commenting on uniting and taking up this issue against criminalisation. There’s a very positive response from the whole industry and it’s incredibly encouraging.”
While such a shocking and inequitable case of unfair criminalisation has unified the shipping industry against future incidents, the Hebei Two have yet to have their names cleared – the next phase which V.Ships is working hard to act upon.