V.Ships concerned over Hebei Spirit trial injustice

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V.Ships has raised concerns that the Master and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit “may not get a fair trial” when their appeal takes place later in the year.

In a further comment, the company claimed that the criminalisation of seafarers was having a detrimental effect on the industry at a time when there was a chronic crew shortage.

V.Ships President Roberto Giorgi recently visited Korea in a declaration of company support and moral backing to the detained Master and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit, and to express his eminent concern regarding the unfair treatment of seafarers in what is proving to be a gruelling and sinister trial.

In response to a question that the latest developments look to be designed to ensure that the master and chief officer are found guilty on appeal, Roberto Giorgi replied: “I am worried that the Captain and Chief Officer may not get a fair trial this time around.”

He questioned why Samsung – which was responsible for the Marine Spread of three tug boats and one large crane barge, which ultimately crashed into the fully laden VLCC, Hebei Spirit, after one of the tug’s towing wires broke in heavy weather – had been allowed to join the appeal, alongside the Prosecutor’s Office ‘and act as a 2nd prosecutor?’.

Despite trial conclusion on 23rd June 2008 declaring the innocence of the two men with the promise for later release on commencement of the hearings, the Korean Prosecutor’s Office refused to allow the two detainees to be released, under forceful appeal. The Korean tribunal’s report on the accident said the tanker’s crew should have done more to prevent the accident, without specifying what action could have been taken.

The report also finds that the master and chief officer were negligent in exactly the same manner that was alleged by prosecutors and Samsung when they made their appeal, before the report had been written. “I think there was some consultation between Samsung, prosecutors and the people that put together the report,” Mr Giorgi alleged.

Under International Maritime Organisation rules – flag states, ship owners and other interested parties must be given the opportunity to comment on official draft accident reports before a final version is published.

Stephen Li, a Hong Kong Marine Department accident investigator, confirmed that the department (as the Flag State for the Hebei Spirit) had neither been consulted nor received a copy of the report.

With the trial expected to recommence with final judgement to be passed on 23rd December 2008, there is deep anxiety over whether the prosecutors could file a secondary appeal to South Korea’s Supreme Court, running the risk of extending the crew’s detainment a further six months.