India slams Korea over Hebei Spirit detentions

India has slammed South Korea for victimising innocent seafarers and called on the Seoul government to allow the Captain and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit to return home pending the appeal process.

India told the 58th session of the IMO MEPC meeting in London, that it “will not and cannot support the criminalisation of seafarers nor the unjust, unreasonable or unfair treatment that is contrary to the principles of the IMO/ILO guidelines on the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident.”

It added: “We are afraid that the industry’s recruitment crisis will worsen unless its members unite to protect seafarers from unreasonable attacks on their rights. If the industry does not protect the crew members it will become even more difficult to convince young men to go to sea.”

Captain Jasprit Chawla and chief officer Syam Chetan have been held in South Korea pending a retrial, even though they were found not guilty of causing environmental pollution at a Korean district court on June 23. This followed a collision between crane barge Samsung No 1, owned by Samsung Heavy Industries, and the 260,000 dwt very large crude carrier Hebei Spirit during stormy conditions on December 7.

India told IMO Member States: “Yet again we see with regret and anguish that seafarers are being victimised due to the malicious tangled web of extra judicial and/or extra legal interpretation of the local laws. When even some of the worst civil or criminal offenders worldwide can be released on bail and allowed to live in their place of normal residence, pending trial or retrial, why not two innocent seafarers whose only fault was to be serving on an anchored oil tanker which happened to be in the path of a runaway crane barge.

“We accept the need for a thorough investigation of all accidents and for those responsible for wrongful conduct to face the consequences. We wish to convey our surprise, our disappointment and out great concern that South Korea’s courts have it in mind to continue to detain the ship’s officers despite their acquittal for possibly as long as a year depending on further hearings.

“Such measures appear to be unjustified, unreasonable and in contravention of human rights. We remind those responsible for the continued detention of the seafarers that the trial determined that another vessel which was towing the floating crane struck the anchored tanker was wrongfully responsible for the incident,” the Indian delegation stressed.

In reply, South Korea said it would notify its government of the concerns raised.