Today's decision by the Korean Appeal Court to find guilty the Master and Chief Officer of the 'Hebei Spirit', an anchored VLCC which was struck by a Samsung Crane Barge, will surely go down as one of the most disgraceful examples of a miscarriage of justice in a 'supposedly' advanced nation state. For Capt Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan to be sentenced to prison terms and led from the court in handcuffs is a disgrace and insult to the whole shipping industry.
It is hardly surprising that the Indian seafarers' unions are up in arms. No wonder the ITF and its international membership are questioning whether it is safe for its members to travel on ships to Korea. No wonder carriers are considering future calls at Korean Ports. Certainly ship owners will be reviewing their future shipbuilding orders in Korean yards.
Having found the 'Hebei Spirit' officers innocent of all charges at a court hearing on June 24 this year, it appeared to be an extraordinary decision made by the Korean prosecutor to go for appeal on such an open and shut case.
To then follow this decision by failing to allow the 'Hebei Spirit' officers to return home to their loved ones after 6 months held in Korea, was to compound the gross injustice that had been done and was despite assurances from V.Ships that the officers would return for any future hearings. The two officers have now been held in Korea, without the right to leave the country, for one year.
As far as the appeal case itself is concerned, the reliance placed upon the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST ) findings and conclusions, has resulted in technically flawed, unreliable and unjust evidence being submitted to the Daejeon District Court, the Court of Appeal, which returned its decision today.
In submitting their report, the KMST has demonstrated both its incompetence and an obvious desire to find fault with the officers of the Hebei Spirit. It is also a matter of fact that in compiling their report, the KMST has not complied with the IMO guidelines for consultation with other parties.
This blatant and totally unjustifiable case of criminalisation of a profession that we all rely upon for our international trade must not go unanswered by the international community and all those in the shipping industry.
We can only hope that the Authorities in Korea will take immediate steps to restore the country's now tarnished image as a place where all who deal there can expect justice and respect of human rights.