Tug masters jailed for Hebei Spirit spill

THE master and chief officer of the Hebei Spirit, the very large crude carrier involved in South Korea’s worst oil spill, have been cleared of all charges related to the collision with a crane barge last December.

But in the verdict delivered on Monday afternoon Korean time, two South Korean tug captains were jailed for their part in the collision. One of the tug masters was jailed for three years for marine pollution offences and fined Won5m for falsifying navigation records while the other was sent to prison for one year.

Samsung Heavy Industries, the shipbuilder that owned the crane barge that smashed into the tanker, was fined the maximum Won30m ($29,120).

Jasprit Chawla, master of the Hebei Spirit, and chief officer Syam Chetan were freed by the Seosan branch of Daejeon district court on Monday.

Prosecutors last week demanded that Capt Chawla be jailed for three years and Mr Chetan should be sent to prison for two years for marine pollution offences.

This followed the incident around 0650 hrs local time on December 7 when a drifting crane barge smashed into the tanker, rupturing three cargo tanks, while the vessel was at anchor about 150km southeast of Seoul.

V.Ships, the ship management company handling the 1993-built, 268,605 dwt single-hull vessel, was working with the vessel owner, Hebei Ocean Shipping, to fly Capt Chawla and Mr Chetan out of the country as soon as possible. The two Indian nationals have been in South Korean since the incident, and although they have not been detained they have been unable to leave the country.

The incident occurred around 0650 hrs on December 7 when the crane barge, Samsung No 1, was being towed by the two tugs during stormy weather conditions. A tow line between the barge and one of the tugs broke, causing the barge, still with the other line attached, to drift into the tanker in the storm force winds.

Despite taking emergency measures, including loosening the anchor chain, the crew on board the fully loaded tanker were unable to prevent the collision, which holed three cargo tanks and spilled about 10,500 tonnes of oil, which came ashore along South Korea’s west coast. This constituted the country’s worst environmental disaster, with economic losses estimated in billions of won.