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Intertanko supports Hebei Spirit offcers through letter to Korean president

Seoul: Industry body Intertanko, representing some 80% of tanker owners around the world, has submitted a letter to the President of the Republic of Korea, asking for a level playing field in the Appeal Court judges reviewing and handing down their decision in the Appeal (lodged by the Prosecutor and Samsung) against the 'innocent' verdict given in the initial trial of the Master and C/O of the Hebei Spirit.

The body has also supported the seamen, Captain Jasprit Chawla (pictured right) and Chief Officer Syam Chetan (pictured left), by taking a full page advertisement in the Korea Times, just one day before Korean judges hand down a judgement on the appeal.

The open letter, addressed to President Lee Myung-bak states:
"We, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, have noted with considerable dismay the Second (Appeal) Decision of the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST) and its findings of fault on the part of the two ship's officers of the "Hebei Spirit"; Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer, Syam Chetan.

As a responsible and accountable international shipping association, which represents over 80% of independent tanker owner interests worldwide, we first wish to offer all our sympathy to the people of Korea who were so badly affected by the spill of oil which resulted when the runaway Samsung crane barge struck the legitimately anchored tanker "Hebei Spirit".

We are aware that both Captain Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan were acquitted in the Daesan Court of the First Instance in June this year of all charges of criminal negligence. We are also aware that this Court Judgment is presently under appeal and understand that the Daesan Court of Appeal will be giving judgment as early as Wednesday 10 December.

We are further aware that the First (Inchon) KMST Decision has already been submitted in evidence in the Daesan Court of Appeal proceedings, and that it is likely that the Second (Appeal) KMST Decision will also be submitted in evidence in these proceedings. We are advised that Courts in Korea attach great weight to KMST Decisions. Noting this, and having considered in some detail the Second (Appeal) Decision of the KMST that is now before us as well as the First (Inchon) KMST Decision, we believe them both to be technically flawed and therefore that they draw unjust conclusions.
We wish also to express our concern that the KMST reports have not been produced in accordance with the internationally recognised IMO Interim Guidelines (MSC/Circ 1058) and IMO Code for the Investigation of Marine Casualties and Incidents. One of the cornerstones of this Code is the requirement to co-operate and consult with all interested parties before a final report is made.

We therefore urge the Daesan Court of Appeal to carefully consider all of the evidence, and in particular the judgment of the Daesan Court of First Instance, and not to rely solely on these KMST Decisions when reaching its decision. We also appeal to the Court to pay full respect to all its international treaty obligations to seafarers in rendering its decision. After it has made a careful and balanced review of all the evidence, we hope that the Court will reach a fair and just decision, not just in the interests of Captain Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan, but also as a demonstration to seafarers trading to the Republic of Korea that they can expect the highest standards of fair treatment and justice.

It would be highly regrettable if the outcome of these proceedings were to prove detrimental to Korea's international reputation and to its status as a tanker shipping nation, to its shipyards which rely on business from international tanker owners and to its refining and chemicals industry whose oil is delivered by the international tanker fleet."

The case has raised a flurry of international support, led by the Indian Seafarers Federation (ISF), which has set up a web forum (http://www.itfglobal.org/campaigns/hebeitwo.cfm) and a web-log (http://www.justiceforhebeispirit.blogspot.com/) to mobilise support for the seafarers. 

The VLCC Hebei Spirit was at anchor in December 2007 when it was hit by a crane barge, resulting in regrettable pollution from the VLCC's crude oil cargo. The Captain and Chief Officer were found innocent by a Korean Court in June 2008. An appeal was made, which decision will be released on or around Wednesday 10 December.

The two seafarers have been detained against their will in Korea since December 2007 ?" despite being found innocent by a Korean Court in June 2008.  [08/12/08]

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