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ITF: Hebei Spirit verdict 'incomprehensibly vindictive'

Seoul: The guilty verdict and jail time handed out to the captain and chief officer involved in the Hebei Spirit case has angered the maritime community and International transport Worker's Federation (ITF) in particular. Captain Jasprit Chawla (pictured right) and Chief Officer Syam Chetan (pictured left), were found guilty of criminal negligence for the Hebei Spirit oil spill and sentenced to 1.5 years and eight months imprisonment respectively by a South Korean court. The two were also fined 20m Korean Won ($14,000) and 10m Korean Won ($7,000) respectively. Additonally, the ruling has reversed the acquittal of the barge master and resulted in an eighteen month jail term for him.

The ITF has branded the decision as 'incomprehensibly vindictive' and called for support from its affiliated unions and organisations to condemn the guilty verdict.

The decision, the result of an appeals process, has surprised some as the seafarers had been acquitted of any negligence at a hearing in June. However, the court has identified the following reasons for its verdict (note: these have been heavily criticised by protestors):

Reasons for judgement on Hebei Spirit Master:
Engine work not done correctly
Master should have gone full astern to drag anchor
On charge re Oil Spill prevention
Guilty
Inert Gas increased spillage and should not have been done
Low explosive risk
3.5 hours was too long
Could have listed to 10 degrees which would have prevented oil spill
Jail Term: 1.5 years & W20m Fine

Reasons for judgement on HS Chief Officer:
Should have been more vigilant and called master by 0550 at latest
On charge re Oil Spill prevention
Guilty
Inert Gas increased spillage and should not have been done
Low explosive risk
3.5 hours was too long
Could have listed to 10 degrees which would have prevented oil spill

"This is not justice. It's not even something close," said ITF Maritime Coordinator Stephen Cotton. "What we have seen today is scapegoating, criminalisation and a refusal to consider the wider body of evidence that calls into question the propriety of the court. This decision is incomprehensibly vindictive and will impact on all professional mariners"

"The one thing we can promise today is that this isn't over. The campaign to free these men will go on growing until the justice that was so glaringly absent in this court today is done," he concluded.

The federation has offered an official letter template on its website for use by visitors to protest the decision. It brands the decision a "scapegoating and criminalisation of these men - and by implication, of all professional seafarers," and calls upon the Korean authorities to "demonstrate their support for the seafaring profession by re-examining this case in close detail, with a view to finding a positive outcome Chawla and Chetan".

The two men have been refused permission to leave Korea since the incident in December 2007, despite an international campaign of support and their having been cleared of all charges of breaking the nation's anti-pollution laws when the anchored VLCC was hit by a barge owned by Samsung Heavy Industries.  [10/12/08]

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