“The decision by the Korean court to imprison two officers of the ‘Hebei Spirit’ is very regrettable indeed and further adds to the concerns that the shipping industry has about the criminalisation of seafarers in general,” said Polemis.
The incident happened in December 2007, when a crane barge broke free of its moorings and collided with the oil tanker mv ‘Hebei Spirit’ whilst at anchor 10 km (6.2 miles) off the coast of South Korea. The vessel was punctured in three places causing the subsequent release of an estimated 2.8m gallons of crude oil.
“The ‘Hebei Spirit’ was at anchor when she was rammed by a barge and yet the officers from the anchored vessel have somehow now ended up in jail. Whatever the legal arguments, the international shipping industry – for whom we speak – cannot comprehend such an outcome,” he continued.
The ICS believes that these imprisonments, coupled with recent high profile attacks on ships by armed pirate criminal gangs, will serve as a further disincentive to follow a career at sea. It has called on the world’s seafaring nations to “stand up and take notice”.
“The world expects – in fact it takes for granted – that the shipping industry will provide a seamless, efficient and effective delivery of goods. Shipowners cannot therefore remain unresponsive to the imprisonment of two of their seafarers who provide this service worldwide.”
Highlighting that seafarers are exposed to the vagaries of different national laws, with some jurisdictions imposing criminal sanctions for oil pollution even when there is no intentional or wilful misconduct, the ICS says there is a real need for uniformity based on the internationally agreed MARPOL standards so that seafarers know where they stand.
“All nations should be deeply concerned about the impact of this decision on recruitment to the Maritime profession at a time when there is a growing shortage of well-trained and qualified sea-going personnel. We stand together, united, with all seafarers in their efforts to free these two officers as soon as possible,” Polemis concluded.