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Tanker group calls for fairness on eve of oil spill appeal

File image.
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Dec 9, 2008
A worldwide shipping association has urged a court to reach a "just decision" when it rules Wednesday on whether a Hong Kong supertanker was partly to blame for South Korea's worst oil spill.

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) said it hopes the appeal court's ruling will show seafarers serving South Korea "that they can expect the highest standards of fair treatment and justice."

INTERTANKO, in what it called an open letter to President Lee Myung-Bak, said an adverse decision could damage the country's reputation and status as a tanker shipping nation as well as its shipbuilding, refining and chemicals industries.

The court in the central city of Daejeon will decide whether the owners of a Hong Kong-registered supertanker and its Indian captain and chief officer are partly at fault over the spillage in December 2007.

The accident happened when a barge carrying a crane broke free after cables linking it to two tugs snapped in rough seas. The barge rammed the anchored 147,000-ton Hebei Spirit, holing it in three places and spilling 10,900 tons of crude.

Scores of marine farms and miles of beaches, notably in Taean county about 110 kilometres (69 miles) southwest of Seoul, were smothered in oil.

A court on June 23 jailed the two South Korean tugboat captains and fined the barge operator, Samsung Heavy Industries. It acquitted the tanker's top officers and the ship's owner, Hong Kong-registered Hebei Ocean Shipping.

But because prosecutors appealed the ruling, Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan are still banned from leaving the country though they are not in custody.

Eight world shipping organisations in July protested against "the continuing unjust and unreasonable detention (in Korea)" of the pair and appealed to the government to let them leave.

INTERTANKO, in its letter dated Monday, expressed dismay that the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal had found the two tanker officers to be at fault despite the acquittal by the court.

It called the tribunal's ruling "technically flawed" and not produced in accordance with international guidelines, and said it hopes the appeal court "will reach a fair and just decision" in accordance with the evidence.

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