Hebei Spirit

Lloyds List – Wednesday 23 January 2008

THE news that the master of the very large crude carrier Hebei Spirit, several crew, and indeed the owners of the ship, have been charged by the South Korean authorities, is profoundly depressing, demonstrating once again that the perils of the sea have become but a minor part of the risks run by those involved in marine transport.

It also illustrates the dilemma faced by maritime employers, who have to consider how best to support staff so disgracefully treated by the authorities, despite demonstrating great professionalism and seamanship in difficult circumstances.

The charges against Capt Chawla and his team are quite ridiculous and betray profound ignorance of ship operations. They also suggest that political pressure to placate those who have suffered from the pollution has been a major factor.

The facts speak for themselves. A VLCC was anchored in the authorised position. A crane barge, owned by South Korea’s biggest company, attempted a coastal passage in adverse weather. Its manoeuvres to avoid the anchored ship were inept and ineffective. The VLCC crew employed every reasonable and practical effort to avoid the collision and are now unfairly charged by the authorities.

Capt Chawla and his officers now join a depressingly long list of fine professionals who have been treated appallingly by authorities after a maritime accident.

Without exception, all the states whose treatment of those involved leaves so much to be desired, are members of the International Maritime Organization. Most will have attended the most recent meeting of the IMO’s Legal Committee, where recommendations for the fair treatment of seafarers involved in maritime accidents featured. All such administrations, and not just that of South Korea, need to examine themselves and consider the consequences of their disgraceful behaviour on those who make their living upon the sea.

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