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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Senior officers of VLCC Hebei Spirit cleared of criminal charges

INTERTANKO warmly welcomes the decision of the South Korean Courts finding the Master and Chief Officer, as well as the Owner, of the VLCC Hebei Spirit innocent of all charges of violating South Korea's ocean pollution law. The Association and its Members are delighted that justice has been done and that the Master and Chief Officer's freedom has now been restored and they can return to their families.


The following statement has been made by the vessel's Owner and Ship Manager:


In a judgment handed down today, Monday 23 June at a branch of the Daejeon District Court in the city of Seosan, South Chungcheong Province, on South Korea's west coast, the Master and 1st Officer of the Hebei Spirit were found innocent of all charges of violating the ocean pollution law; as was the Hong Kong owner of the vessel, Hebei Spirit Shipping Co Ltd.


Despite calls from the Prosecutor to hand down maximum fines and sentences of 2 and 3 year jail terms, and allegations by Samsung's lawyers that the Hebei Spirit was completely at fault in not getting out of the way, the court took the factual evidence and the view of the expert witnesses (including the Prosecutor's witness) that there was insufficient reason for the Master to have pulled up the anchor and moved the ship, at the approach of the Samsung Barge.


In fact, the actions of the Master in manipulating the ship's position at the approach of the Barge avoided any collision in the first instance.


It was only once the tugs and Barge had cleared to bow of the Hebei Spirit – thus avoiding any collision - that a second set of circumstances caused the tow rope to break and rough weather and turbulent seas drove the Barge backwards against the ship's hull, in a matter of minutes.


Bob Bishop, Chief Executive of V.Ships Shipmanagement, the managers of the Hebei Spirit, comments:


 "We would like to express our utmost sympathy to all those whose livelihoods were affected by the tragic events that took place and deeply regret the environmental damage that resulted.


We would also like to congratulate and thank the Korean courts on their fair and just interpretation of the facts as presented and their unbiased and independent judgment.


We are naturally delighted with this decision and happy that our officers will shortly be reunited with their families. I have always stated that the actions of the Master, Chief Officer and crew of the Hebei Spirit are shining examples of all that is excellent in responsible seafaring; I believe the decision of the Korean Courts supports this view".


Bob Bishop also expressed his great appreciation to the Skuld team and their legal counsel in Korea who worked so tirelessly on the case for six months.


Click here for a background note containing a summary of events as presented by the Club (Skuld), V.Ships and the Owners to the Courts.


Click here for an eight minute video on U-Tube made two months ago which has extracts from the press conference in January this year in Hong Kong.


The Owners and Managers of the Hebei Spirit believe that the Korean legal system has proven itself to be just and fair on an international scale. On behalf of Captain Jasprit Singh Chawla (39) and Syam Chetan, Chief Officer (33), they would sincerely like to thank the Korean legal and maritime authorities for their assistance and fair minded approach to this very unfortunate incident. 


Contact: Bill Box  or  Peter Swift