Thursday, 1 January 2009

Industry update

Captain Jaspreet Chawla and Chief Officer Shyam Chetan move the South Korean Supreme Court as they appeal against their conviction. A bench of three Supreme Court judges will now hear their appeal. The two Indian seafarers were found guilty of negligence earlier this month after a district court overturned an earlier ruling of a lower court that had found them innocent. To add to their problems, reports suggest that Supreme Court hearings of appeal take up to a year to be resolved in South Korea. Meanwhile, appeals by international maritime organisations and the Indian government to South Korea for ‘humane treatment’ have evoked limited response from authorities in Seoul.
"It was a very serious case and huge damage was caused to the environment and lives of people living in the coastal area. There is nothing the Korean government can do in a criminal case except await the verdict of the Supreme Court," sources in the Korean government have told Times of India. The Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi had earlier said that it was in talks with the Korean authorities, who had promised better treatment to the two mariners, and that “due sensitivity would be shown to their personal requirements”. Meanwhile, protests by industry, unions and seafarers in India have gathered some steam, with irate participants demanding a boycott or destruction of South Korean goods, particularly targetting Samsung. They also want the Hebei Two to be granted immediate bail. Samsung Heavy Industries, a huge Korean conglomerate, has been accused by many international industry bodies of unduly influencing the legal process. Reports have appeared in the media of Samsung officials visiting crewmembers’ homes to try to bribe them in return for favourable statements. Seafarers are already angry that the sentences of the two Samsung tug Masters directly responsible for the incident were reduced at the same time as the Hebei Two were found guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced to prison terms; the news of a possible lengthy legal battle ahead will undoubtedly add to their ire. The Indian Government has come under fire and has been accused of double standards by many, who believe that not enough is being done to put pressure on the Koreans. “Can anybody give me a reason why the two cannot be granted bail pending appeal?” one angry seafarer asked Marex.

Meanwhile, Samsung Heavy Industries is seeking to limit its liability in the case of the Hebei Spirit oil spill to Won5bn ($38m). The total damages are reported to be in the region of Won600bn, but Samsung is attempting to reduce its liability in line with the insurance limits of the tug ‘Samsung No. 1’ directly responsible for the spill. The Seoul district court has confirmed that Samsung has filed a motion after 7500 fishermen lodged a claim at the court claiming damages. Lloyd’s list quotes documents submitted by Samsung as saying, “Though a Samsung Heavy barge and the Hebei Spirit oil tanker were both at fault for the collision, it was the oil tanker that caused the most damage, which could have ended with a small scale oil leak, but grew to become the worst oil spill in the nation’s history.” Maybe somebody should point out to the court, again, that the oil tanker would not have caused any damage at all if the Samsung barge had not collided with it while it was at anchor.

U.S. Coast Guard announces start date for LRIT. The US ‘long range identification and tracking’ system will begin operations on Dec 31, according to a press release issued by the USCG. The LRIT system is meant to augment maritime security, and is in line with a 2006 IMO resolution calling for tracking mainly commercial shipping. The USCG will also begin operations at the National Data Centre in Virginia on the same date. This centre will collect and database all LRIT data from US vessels as well as seek data from other such centers for foreign flagged vessels. The initial purpose of this exercise, according to the USCG statement, is to “to determine the status of compliance."

Hostage seafarers have bleak Christmas: Assistant director of the International Maritime Bureau Michael Howlett has released figures confirming that 268 crewmembers on board 14 hijacked ships spent Christmas under the shadow of the pirates’ guns. Actual figures are reportedly higher, as considerable confusion reigns about the status of small fishing vessels and other coastal ships that may have been hijacked. Underreporting of attacks is also commonplace. Mr. Howlett admitted that two Yemeni fishing boats held hostage were not part of his tally. There have been more than a hundred attacks on commercial shipping off Somalia this year, out of which around forty have been successful. Attacks continue regularly despite international condemnation and naval operations by an increasing number of countries in the region. The UN Security council recently passed a resolution for the first time authorising the use of force against pirates on land in Somalia. Filipino’s form the largest number of seafarers held hostage. In India, mariners are angry that the authorities and the media have ignored the 25 Indian crew held hostage on board the Chemical Tanker ‘Biscaglia’. Ironically, the Biscaglia was taken after three British private security personnel employed on board jumped into that water to escape a pirate attack, and were picked up by a coalition warship. Industry watchers say that although the ‘Stolt Valor’ incident grabbed headlines in India, the Biscaglia, with its larger complement of Indian sailors, has not been so lucky. Meanwhile, pirates have made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom this year.


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