InterManager, the international in-house and third party shipmanagement association, has roundly condemned the continuing detention in Korea of the Master and Chief Officer from the tanker Hebei Spirit.
“Yet again we see our highly professional and valued seafarers singled out for appalling treatment,“ said Ole Stene, President of InterManager. “How can we encourage young people to take up a career in shipping when they see experienced and innocent crew criminalised in this way. Would the airline industry accept this – I think not!“
The 1993-built Hebei Spirit was at anchor waiting for a berth when a crane barge broke its tow in stormy weather and smashed into her side, holing three cargo tanks. About 10,500 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea, causing Korea’s largest ever oil spill.
Two South Korean tug masters were jailed for their part in the incident but the two Hebei Spirit officers, Indian nationals Capt Jasprit Chawla (left) and Mr Syam Chetan (right), were cleared of all charges on June 23rd.
However, they have since been prevented from leaving South Korea pending a retrial that is not expected to take place until early next year. Under South Korean law, prosecutors have appealed to the country’s high court against the decision by a district court in the Daejeon area of Korea that exonerated the men of blame. Depending on the outcome of the high court trial, prosecutors may appeal to South Korea’s Supreme Court, which would result in another retrial which is unlikely to take place until the middle of next year.
The two men have received support not just from their shipmanagement company, V.Ships, but also from other seafarers in messages and telephone calls.
Capt Chawla, who has 17 years of exemplary seafaring service, said in a recent interview that he felt he had done nothing wrong and that he was reluctant to return to sea, fearing that any future decisions he took at the helm would be coloured by this experience.
Mr Stene added: “This criminalisation of seafarers is having a seriously detrimental effect on recruitment. Seafarers spend many months away from their families doing an essential job for global trade. It is horrific to then confine these men many miles away from their homes and their loved ones, particularly when they have already proved they have done nothing wrong. We are very concerned that this type of incident is deterring young men from pursuing a worthwhile career at sea.“