Seafarers will be free to boycott voyages to South Korea amid growing concern over the jailing of senior officers from the oil tanker involved in the country"s worst oil spill.
Seafarers will be free to boycott voyages to South Korea amid growing concern over the jailing of senior officers from the oil tanker involved in the country"s worst oil spill, leading shipping organisations have said. Jasprit Chawla, master of the Hebei Spirit, was jailed on December 10 for 18 months and Syam Chetan, the chief officer, for eight months. Their vessel, which had been sitting at anchor, spilt 10,800 tonnes of crude oil into the Yellow Sea off Daesan on December 7 2007 after being hit by an out-of-control barge.
Any widespread boycott could pose serious problems for South Korea, which relies on ships to supply oil, gas and coal to meet nearly all its energy needs.
The pair"s case is the latest in a series worldwide to have caused concern about seafarers" treatment by courts. Many involved believe coastal states" authorities find it easier to blame pollution and other effects of accidents on foreign seafarers than on local companies or officials who may have been at fault.
The SHI barge hit the Hebei Spirit after breaking its tow line to one of two tugs manoeuvring it in bad weather. As it was repeatedly blown against the oil tanker, which lacked the double-skinned hull of more modern vessels, the barge ruptured three of the Hebei Spirit"s five tanks. Compensation claims from local fishermen, fish farms and others affected are likely to reach several billion dollars.
The original trial in June exonerated the officers, who are both Indian, and jailed the tug operators. However, the officers were refused permission to leave South Korea and the appeal court convicted them largely on the basis of a widely criticised official report which found they should have done more to avoid the collision.
The International Transport Workers" Federation said the ruling was ?incomprehensibly vindictive?. Indian trade unions have called for boycotts of South Korean goods and there have been suggestions that mariners avoid the country because of the risks.
Intermanager, an international organisation of ship managers, said it would not stand in the way of crew who refused to sail to South Korea. Peter Swift, managing director of Intertanko, a trade body for tanker owners, said his organisation would take the same stance.
?If ships" staff opt not to sail to Korea until we get some improvement in the situation, they should not be victimised,? he said.
South Korean authorities have yet to respond to the disquiet.