Chennai, June 11:
The news of apparent release of two Indian marine officers, who were arrested by the South Korean authorities for causing the country’s worst ever oil spill 17 months ago, came as a big reprieve for sailors community living in the country.
Reacting to the verdict setting both Indian mariners free, Capt. Rajesh Tandon, managing director of V Ships India (which employed both), said, “This morning’s verdict by the Appeal Court of the Daejeon District Court Ist Criminal Division in South Korea, to once again find the senior officers of the Hebei Spirit, not guilty of the crime of destruction of property, following the ruling by Korea’s Supreme Court that the two should never have been imprisoned, will be hailed by all in the shipping industry as justice at last.”
During the fist week of December in 2007, the Hebei Spirit, a Hong Kong-registered tanker fully loaded with crude, was at anchor off the west coast of South Korea near the port of Taean.
A drifting South Korean crane barge of Samsung Heavy Industries, which had broken free from the tugboat towing it, punched holes in the tanker's sides. More than 10,000 tons of crude oil poured from the tanker into the sea, coating a 45-kilometer stretch of the coast. It was the largest oil spill in South Korean history.
Contrary to the international (maritime) laws, the Korean authorities detained Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan (both from Punjab State) of the Hebei Spirit and issued exit ban on them till the legal proceedings gets over there.
“The Appellate Division of the district court during its review in April found that the two officers could not be jailed as they were not responsible for the destruction of property,” Rajesh added.
The verdict will enable the two senior officers of the crude carrier to return to their families in India after more than 550 days of an enforced stay in Korea, some spent in prison.
While the verdict enables the two officers to return home, the charges of causing pollution still stand and V.Ships is determined to work towards having these charges removed from the officers' records, Rajesh further said.
Speaking to Express over phone from Mumbai, Abdulgani Y Serang, general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), said, "Though justice was delayed in this case, we welcome the verdict which proved that both the Indian officers were not at fault.”
The management of V Ships also thanked people across the world, leading shipping companies, all the major shipping organisations, unions and seafarers in India who marched and demonstrated to pressurise Korean government to release both the officers.