Hebei Spirit pair stuck in Korea for another year

Captain Jasprit Chawla, left, and Syan Chetan could face at least another year in South Korea.

THE master and chief officer from the tanker Hebei Spirit, which was involved in South Korea’s worst oil spill, may not be able to leave Korea until the entire appeals process is exhausted, which may be at least another year.

This news emerged earlier this week when the two men, ship’s master Jasprit Chawla and chief officer Syam Chetan, told of their frustration and depression over their inability to return home in an exclusive interview with Lloyd’s List.

The two Indian nationals have been prevented from leaving South Korea pending a retrial that is not expected to take place until early next year, even though they were cleared of charges related to the oil spill.

Under South Korea law, prosecutors have appealed to the country’s high court against the decision by a district court in the Daejeon area of Korea that exonerated the men of blame.

But in a further blow, Capt Chawla and Mr Chetan have been told that depending upon the outcome of the high court trial prosecutors can appeal to South Korea’s supreme court, which would result in another retrial. This is unlikely to take place until the middle of next year at the year at the earliest.

The procedures were confirmed by South Korea legal sources who pointed out that there are three court levels in the country — district, high court and supreme court. Prosecutors have the right to challenge the decisions of the two lower courts if they are unhappy with their judgments.

Hebei Spirit Shipping, a single-ship-owning company controlled by Chinese company Hebei Ocean Shipping, is also facing the same retrial after being cleared of involvement in the oil spill which devastated the west coast of South Korea. Samsung Heavy Industries and two tugs captains, one of which was jailed for three years and the other who received a 12 month sentence, will also be tried again.

The 1993-built Hebei Spirit was at anchor waiting for a berth when a drifting crane barge, Samsung No 1, smashed into the side of the very large crude carrier holing three cargo tanks after the barge broke its tow in stormy weather. Approximately 10,500 tonnes of oil spilt into the sea destroying fish farms and the region’s tourism industry.