#1 – Welcome to the website

January 12, 2009

Captain Chawla and CO Syam

Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan Syam,

sailors of the oil tanker named Hebei Spirit, [are still in]

[were finally released from prison in Korea]

were finally permitted to return home to India on June 11th, 2009

after more than a year of waiting for a ‘final’ verdict

as to whether or not Korean authorities consider them guilty

of not preventing the Taean oil spill of 2007.

The case has been dismissed, so even as they return home

Korean authorities are not letting them go free with complete absolution.

* * * * * * *

We congratulate Captain Chawla and Chief Officer Syam of the Hebei Spirit on their return home, and on their forbearance and patience in waiting for a resolution.

We regret greatly that Korean authorities could not see it in their hearts or consciences to let the matter end with a suitably definite resolution of a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict, a pardon and an apology for wasting 18 months of the lives of two good people and their families.

12.6.2009

* * * * * * *

Other websites were set up following the tragic

Taean oil spill of December 7th, 2007.

Among those events the captain and the chief officer of the oil tanker

named Hebei Spirit were arrested and imprisoned awaiting trial.

On the first trial they were cleared of any wrong doing,

but nevertheless were continued to be held in jail.

.

The second trial – the first appeal – was held on

December 10th, 2008, whereupon they were found guilty

and sent back to prison to await a second appeal trial.

.

This website was set up in response to growing national

and international disquiet and disgust at the state –

and the status of – their continued imprisonment.

Publicity has grown as the story of the sailors has spread,

while they, meanwhile, continued to languish and suffer in jail.

.

They were finally released on bail in January 2009,

but were made to wait longer in a foreign land

for a second appeal hearing expected to be in March, 2009.

That hearing, this time by the South Korean Supreme Court,

was delayed, and in the end was held not in March but late April.

When it was finally heard, the Supreme Court merely upheld the fines imposed,

and then referred the whole case back to the local court in Daejon.

.

Thus the two sailors and their families still continue to wait, patiently,

for the Korean wheels of justice to complete one single turn,

and finish deciding if they are innocent or guilty

of helping cause the Taean oil spill.

.

The aim of this site then, was to provide background information

for those visitors new to the case,

and also provide an ongoing, regularly updated place for latest information

on Captain Chawla and Chief Officer Syam,

in an effort to contribute to their immediate [release from prison]

return from South Korea to their homes in India,

and to the oceans of our small, shared world.

.

You can also follow information and publicity releases on this website:

http://justiceforhebeispirit.blogspot.com.

 

return to home in India... ? One year, one month, and still counting

Progress: the innocent sailors from India on release from jail, January 15th 2009. Next stop: return home to India… finally. Total time spent waiting for resolution: one year, six months and four days. Verdict: Case dismissed. Resolution: denied.

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#2 – Captain Chawla

January 12, 2009

_______________________________________________________An article including an interview with Captain Chawla’s wife appeared in The Korea Herald 1.14.2009. (If your web browser cannot open this link, please see section #5 below for the full text.)_______________________________________________________

Captain Chawla and his family

Captain Chawla and his family

This gentleman is a hero for following correct proceedures and limiting the damage of the oil spill in extreme weather conditions.

Instead of being treated as a hero though, he [has] had been held in a tiny, freezing Korean prison cell for over a year [already], before starting his actual sentence of another year-and-a-half of virtual solitary confinement, and further seperation from his lovely, loving wife and two cute young children.

Furthermore, prison authorities [have] had refused to provide him with food appropriate for his religion, thus reducing him to a diet of water and rice.

Captain Chawla (right), Mrs Gurpreet Kaur Chawla, their son Tegpreet (7) and daughter Bineet (4).

Captain Chawla (right), Mrs Gurpreet Kaur Chawla, their son Tegpreet (7) and daughter Bineet (4).

#3 – Chief Officer Syam

January 12, 2009
CO Chetan and his cute baby, on a happier day

CO Syam and his cute young son, on a happier day

Chief Officer Syam is also a hero for limiting the damage of the oil spill during the storm off the west coast of South Korea in December 2007.

Chief Officer Syam Chetan

Chief Officer Chetan Syam

His reward, however, has been a jail cell in a cold Korean prison, apart from his wife and cute young baby, for more than a year.

His father, also a sailor of the highest rank, pleaded for help on television news in India to see his son Chetan’s quick and safe return home. His dedicated and devoted wife Preetha also recently gave an interview in India.

They continue to have to wait to share and enjoy life in their own homes and homeland, as they continue to wait for a third appeal at the Supreme Court level in South Korea.

Chief Officer Syam Chetan and his young son

Chief Officer Chetan Syam and his cute baby

#4 – The families’ message

January 12, 2009

Appeal from Commodore D. R. Syam, Indian Navy (Retd.)

and family members

for help from the world community for immediate justice

for Chief Officer Chetan Syam and Capt. Jasprit Chawla

illegally imprisoned in S. Korea for an oil spill they did not cause

It’s more than a year since the crane barge belonging to Samsung Heavy Industries accidentally rammed in to the M.T. Hebei Spirit, then anchored at a safe anchorage in Taean, S. Korea. A lot more unfortunate incidents have taken place since then, the most unfortunate being the widespread damage caused by the oil spill and the consequent pollution with its devastating effects on the marine life environment and livelihood of fishermen there. The sympathies of the whole world are with them. The accident and the consequent oil spill should not have happened. But unfortunately it did.

The Hebei Spirit and the relative height and size of the Samsung Heavy Industries No.1 barge crane

The Hebei Spirit and the relative height and size of the Samsung Heavy Industries No.1 barge crane

Then came the Korean Judiciary tasked with the job of fixing the responsibility for the worst oil spill in the history of S. Korea. The court hearings were held and on 23rd June 2008 Hon. Judge Jong Chan Rho of the Seosan Branch of Daejeon District Court found Capt. Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan Syam totally innocent and acquitted them of all charges, while convicting the masters of the Tugs. Judge Jong Chan Rho deserves a salute for being very upright and upholding justice in an environment laden with the outrage of the population. He proved that true justice and fair play still had a chance even though the two officers were detained in S. Korea in blatant disregard to the specified guidelines of the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the protests of Maritime organizations, Unions and Media world wide.

As this verdict went into appeal, however, detention of the officers continued with scant respect to the IMO and world opinion. The hearings of the appeal called jointly by the Public Prosecutor and Samsung Heavy Industries, a co-accused (which raised many an eyebrow) followed. The most shocking verdict was delivered to the dismay of the entire world on 10th December 2008 finding the two Indian officers jointly responsible and guilty of an oil spill they did not cause. The world was shocked beyond words particularly since the verdict was largely based on an accident report submitted by Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal which had been appointed by the S. Korean Government. This report was found to be totally faulty. The Tribunal also did not follow the specified IMO guidelines in the conduct of the proceedings.

The Hebei Spirit leaks oil from tank No.5 at a much slower pace due to the quick use of 'rigged matting' held across the hole.

The Hebei Spirit leaks oil from tank No.5 at a much slower pace due to the quick use of ‘rigged matting’ held in place across the hole.

There have been many more protests, intervention by the Government of India, and the IMO leading other Maritime Organizations and Unions the world over. Unfortunately despite all these efforts Capt. Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan Syam find themselves imprisoned in the Chungju Detention Centre, convicted, humiliated by handcuffing and parading soon after the verdict like common criminals.

Is it not a miscarriage of justice which the whole world is watching helplessly? Why are we all so helpless as in the case of terrorist attacks and sea piracy? Why are the seafarers – despite being the backbone of international trade – allowed to be criminalized? The whole world owes an explanation to seafarers in general and especially to Capt. Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan Syam.

On  a personal note, we the family members long to see our only son who we have not seen for the last fifteen months. He, being the son of an officer of the Indian Navy, grew up in a background of military discipline with the importance of moral values and a sense of justice and uprightness becoming natural parts of his personality. Ample evidence of this being his reluctance to interfere with the course of justice and still being confident that justice will prevail notwithstanding the S. Korean aberration. His immense love for his profession comes out loud and clear from the Chungju Detention Centre, S. Korea from where he is saying “God willing I will go to sea very soon”.

Surely we cannot let these officers down. We appeal to you for help in making  the S. Korean Government and their judiciary see reason. Please do help and tell your friends, family members and their friends to help.

Signed:

Distressed Family members

#5 – Latest updates; how to help

January 12, 2009
The two officers with their wives and CO Syam's son, upon being released from South Korean prison on January 15th, 2009.

The two officers with their wives and CO Syam’s son, upon being released from South Korean prison on January 15th, 2009.

New information will continue to be added to this and every relevant section as it comes to light, until such time as both men are once again free [to share fresh air, food, and the light of day] to returnto their families and their home land, and to again sail the seas of our world with work colleagues and friends.

Please share the link to this site as widely as appropriate, and,

please help by providing links if you discover any news stories about Captain Chawla and CO Syam’s situation within the pages and websites of news services of other nations.

(If you have a naver or daum MiniHomeP you could write an entry about the situation and include the link. If you are a facebooker, you could join the facebook group and sometimes include the link to this, that, or other sites in your status title.)

Finally, please check in again for latest updates.

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Listed and linked below:

www.maritime-executive.com 11.6.2009 INTERTANKO’s Welcome at Release of Hebei Two Tinged with Disappointment at Failure to Exonerate

– Lloyd’s List: http://www.lloydslist.com 28.5.2009 – South Korea to release Hebei Two

– Lloyd’s List: Your Say –

Korean opinion‘ in reply, including responses

Lloyd’s List: Your Say –

No justice in second trial for Hebei Spirit pair

includes reply ‘from Korea’ via RoK embassy, London

– The Korea Times 4.23.2009 – Top Court Holds Samsung, Hebei Guilty of Oil Spill

– Taiwan News 4.23.2009 – S. Korea’s top court orders review in oil spill case

– The Korea Times 1.21.2009 – Hebei Spirit Case Getting International Spotlight

– Global Sikh News 1.18.2009 – South Korea releases Capt Jasprit Singh Chawla

– Korea Herald 1.16.2009 – Taean oil spill tanker crew released on bail

– Korea Times 1.15.2009 – Indian Seafarers to Be Released on Bail

Korea Herald 1.14.2009 – For seamen, it’s hell and high water

– Korea Times 1.13.2009 – Oil Spill and Boycott of Korean Products

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INTERTANKO’s Welcome at Release of Hebei Two Tinged with Disappointment at Failure to Exonerate
Thursday, June 11th, 2009

INTERTANKO is delighted that Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan, Master and Chief officer of the Hebei Spirit, have finally been released after being held in Korea for 550 days since the accident in December 2007, and will be returning home within days.

That these men were held for so long is unjust and unacceptable, and support for their case has come from a uniquely broad coalition of the shipping industry – the Round Table of international shipping associations (BIMCO, INTERCARGO, ICS, ISF and INTERTANKO), The International Group of P&I Clubs (IG), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association, InterManager, the International Maritime Employers’ Committee (IMEC) as well as the ship manager V.Ships and dozens of executives of international ship owning companies.

While we were pleased to see the Supreme Court reverse the Appeal Court’s decision to imprison these two officers in respect of the charges brought for destruction of the Hebei Spirit, we nevertheless remain surprised and disappointed at the decision to dismiss the appeal concerning the charges of pollution and to uphold the pollution fines. We are also dismayed that this pollution charge falls short of the ‘innocent of all charges’ verdict handed down by the Daejeon District Court in June 2008.

These two men acted in an exemplary manner during the Hebei Spirit incident, behaving in a way that was fully consistent with international tanker standards and practices which put the safety of seafarers first – as per the evidence given by INTERTANKO to the Supreme Court. We maintain that is unjust that these two men should have stains on their records when they should have been fully exonerated of blame and applauded for their behaviour.

We will therefore continue to back efforts to clear the names and reputations of these two men.

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South Korea to release Hebei Two

by Lloyd’s List — last modified May 28, 2009 12:05 PM

The Hebei Two’s prolonged captivity at the hands of the South Korean authorities looks set to end within two weeks, write Jerry Frank and Marcus Hand.

South Korean diplomats said yesterday they expected Jasprit Chawla and Syam Chetan would be allowed to head home to India, ending more than 18 months of
incarceration in South Korea.

V.Ships, manager of the Hebei Spirit, is confident Capt Chawla and Mr Chetan will be allowed to leave South Korea by June 11.

South Korea’s Supreme Court dismissed charges against the master and chief officer last month, but kept the pair in the country awaiting a lower court decision that the charges against them should be dismissed.

The widely backed lobby for the release of the Hebei Two had expressed fears that a lower court decision to dismiss the case could take anything up to six months.

According to Satnam Kumar, V.Ships’ Asia managing director of ship management, there was a hearing of the lower court in Korea on Tuesday.

The case is due to be heard again on June 11, with the lower court affirming that the charges should be dropped.

“We are confident by that time they will be able to return to India,” V.Ships president Roberto Giorgi said.

The pair have not been allowed to leave South Korea since the very large crude carrier Hebei Spirit was holed by a crane barge and spilled oil in December 2007.

South Korean delegates attending the opening of the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee in London yesterday indicated that the decision over the fate of the seafarers would be expedient.

www.lloydslist.com

Treatment of Chawla and Chetan was `regrettable’

by Obsidian — last modified May 05, 2009 05:23 PM

Two seafarers stuck in South Korea over the Hebei Spirit tanker oil spill lied and manipulated voyage data recorder information, according to the head of the country’s shipping register.

Hebei Spirit master Jasprit Chawla and chief officer Syam Chetan were jailed in December but are now on bail pending an appeal in mid-2009.

Korean Register chairman Kong-Gyun Oh told Lloyd’s List their treatment was regrettable and detention very…

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Hebei Two treatment beggars belief

SIR, Why am I unsurprised at the treatment that these two men continue to receive? The Korean Supreme Court, having cleared them of the charges, still seems unable to order them to be released. It beggars belief!

Captain Leslie Morris
Marine Consultant
Morris Maritime
Fairview Drive
SO51 7LQ
United Kingdom

Hebei case will drive away seafarersSIR, The contemptible and inexcusable treatment of Jasprit Chawla and Syam Chetan will have long-lasting implications within the marine industry.

The true cost of the actions of the Korean judicial system will be to drive such proficient and skilled seafarers from an industry already struggling to recruit and retain an ever dwindling resource.

All the recent denunciation seen in the trade press does not change nor diminish the very real and persistent danger faced by the seafarer today. It is welcome to see shipping groups make representations to the International Maritime Organization. However, when an individual nation state can act with impunity following an accident, then all these angry words will not comfort the criminalised and incarcerated seafarer, nor his family.

I sailed in the tanker industry for 28 years, taking the decision just recently, and with regret, to resign my position as a very large crude carrier master. This was a direct result of such inequitable treatment of seafarers, not to mention the almost constant threat of piracy and armed robbery.

I followed the Hebei Spirit story with interest, and it became evident as time progressed that Capt Chawla and Mr Chetan were going to be made scapegoats, regardless of their professionalism.

The continuing criminalisation of the seafarer by the unilateral action of individual nation states, including past actions by European Union member states, will drive people from the industry and make recruitment even more difficult than it already is. This will be the true long term cost of the Hebei Spirit trial fiasco, and the continuing deplorable treatment of seafarers.

Capt David Ireland, By email

South Korean rebuttal to Lloyd’s List opinion reportSIR, In the piece ‘Hebei verdict must be just’ (Lloyd’s List, December 2), Lloyd’s List’s assertion that the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal investigation and appeals system are tainted by “collusion” and “bias” was not based on the facts of the relevant case and imprudently negates the court and administrative procedures of the sovereign state. It thus becomes a very regrettable editorial piece that only serves to irrationally defame the honour of the Republic of Korea.

1. Pertaining to the assertion that despite minimal consultation with the flag state and none whatsoever with any other stakeholders this tribunal’s report was published:

1.1 The Code of the International Standards and Recommended Practices for a Safety Investigation into a Marine Casualty or Marine Incident will be effective from January 2010. The new International Maritime Organization casualty investigation code will provide a unified investigation method as a way to resolve problems arising from different national investigation systems.

1.2 While this stands to be a new mandatory code and obligates all member states to implement it, the distinctive characteristics of the national laws of member states pertaining to marine casualty investigations have been recognized.

1.3 Article 13 of the code reads that an investigation draft report should be sent to relevant stakeholders for their views. However, as the code has not yet entered into force in the international maritime community, there exists no obligation to duly carry out any of its regulations, namely article 13.

1.4 International collaboration within the boundaries of national law is partially but most certainly possible even before the code enters into force. However, national legal procedures do not enable views of relevant stakeholders to be reflected in the final written report, and thus no practical benefit can be attained from sending a draft report to the stakeholders.

1.5 Nevertheless, in light of the special international interest and significance of this marine incident, the procedure to present relevant stakeholders with a written report is currently under review.

1.6 Moreover, article 25 of the code, which calls for a copy of the report to be sent to relevant stakeholders for their views, is only a recommendation, and presently does not correspond with national legal procedures.

2. Pertaining to the assertion that this tribunal’s report was used as evidence during criminal proceedings:

2.1 Article 23 of the code cautions that all recordings related to a casualty investigation should be kept strictly confidential, and Article 25 of the code recommends that the report should not be recognised as evidence during criminal proceedings.

2.2 The Korea Maritime Safety Tribunal, based on the open court principle, undertakes an approval process to provide evidence if relevant parties to the marine incident, trial lawyers or judicial authorities should make such a request. Otherwise, the tribunal abides by the Marine Accidents Inquiry Act and its non-disclosure principle.

2.3 However, it is up to the court to decide whether to take reference of the Tribunal’s final judgment in the criminal proceedings. At present, the tribunal is without any legal grounds by which to limit the court from using the evidence.

3. Pertaining to the assertion that the Korea Maritime Safety Tribunal is preparing an overly-critical report of the Hebei Spirit seafarers:

3.1 As the editorial indicates that the report details became known even prior to it being written, it seems logical to assume and criticise that, on the contrary, the tribunal was colluding with the Hebei Spirit interests.

3.2 In addition, despite the tribunal’s official explanations, the fact that Lloyd’s List continues to print or opine assertions favourable to the Hebei Spirit interests and condemning to the Korean authorities without any sort of a filtering mechanism raises a contrary issue of whether the Lloyd’s List and the Hebei Spirit interests are colluding to pressure the tribunal and the criminal court into handing out afavourable verdict for the Hebei Spirit tanker.

3.3 The tribunal’s motto is fairness and justice, and calls for evidence to be presented in trial proceedings. Facts based on the presented evidence are accepted, and criminal procedures including hearings are open to the public and conducted transparently. As noted by Lloyd’s List, words such as collusion, bias and possible distortion of the facts are not to be applied lightly.

3.4 Nevertheless, Lloyd’s List opined that the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal and the appeals court system were tainted by such descriptions, but based purely on suspicion and speculation, and thus the editorial severely defamed the impartiality of the tribunal. Hasty expressions and words were used that could very well disturb the foundation of the judicial and administrative institutions of a sovereign state. This very regrettable piece of writing did in fact undermine the honour and prestige of the Republic of Korea.

Embassy of the Republic of Korea
60 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AJ

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No justice in second trial for Hebei Spirit pair

SIR, The treatise on the intricacies of the South Korean legal system (Lloyd’s List, October 22) makes for absorbing reading, and I invite the Minister-Counsellor to elaborate on his assertion that the report by the Incheon Maritime Safety Tribunal “sufficiently points out the negligence of Samsung and Hebei Spirit, and that the cause of the collision mostly originated on the side of Samsung’s tug boats”.

Having seen a video excerpt and read numerous reports on the incident, which suggested that despite the appalling weather there was but one tug, I am at a loss to understand what more Capt Chawla and Mr Chetan could have done to avert the collision and in what way they were “negligent”.

Insofar as I am aware, both men were tried by a court of law, albeit at district level, on June 23 and both were found not guilty on all charges and had their passports returned. The same court found Hebei Ocean Shipping blameless, and it was reported that the court had promised the release of the master and chief officer.

It is pertinent that the report by the Korean tribunal stated that the tanker’s crew should have “done more to prevent the accident” but failed to suggest what action they might have taken to prevent the huge crane barge hitting the 270,000 dwt tanker when the barge’s towline parted. Equally pertinent was the report in the Korea Times that the regional office of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries made abortive attempts to warn the master of the barge that he was too close to the tanker — and that two hours before the collision.

Undoubtedly, the release of 11,000 tonnes of crude oil inflicted massive damage to the Yellow Sea coast, but with three tanks ruptured, it is difficult to imagine what more the crew of the tanker could have done to reduce the pollution.

Reports at the time commended them for their rapid transfer of the cargo residue from the damaged tanks, but I recall that the local police and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries were castigated for their subsequent “insufficient distribution of oil absorbent materials”, a charge they did not deny.

Both men have had a fair trial and have been acquitted but there are many who share the reservations expressed by the president of V.Ships about the fairness of a further trial. Undoubtedly, heads should roll but not those of Capt Chawla and his chief officer. If they are being detained in Korea, they are hostages, and the complex legal system of their captors is being exposed for the farce that it appears to be.

I await Mr Lim’s response and I hope that he will not seek to shelter under the old “sub judice” argument.

CR Kelso, Capt (Rtd)
Southampton SO31 8DB
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The reply:

Statement from Korea on Hebei SpiritSIR, The Korea Central Maritime Safety Tribunal, which aims to examine the cause of a marine incident and prevent any reoccurrences, is an independent body with a system and characteristics that totally differ from a judicial authority, such as a prosecutor’s office, which aims to punish crimes.

Therefore, the decision of the tribunal cannot be binding on a judicial authority.

In particular, Samsung Heavy Industries is strictly prohibited from making any sort of contact with the special inquiry division prior to a fair trial. Based on this reasoning, V.Ships’ president’s assertion that “there was some consultation between Samsung, the prosecutors, and the people that put together the report” is unfair and stands contrary to the facts.

To be clear, however, pursuant to a relevant act (Investigation and Inquiry into a Marine Accident Act, Article 7-2), the prosecutor may obtain the views of a competent district maritime safety tribunal when instituting a public action, and thus making references to a tribunal report is not illegal.

The report by the Incheon Maritime Safety Tribunal (first instance) sufficiently points out the negligence of Samsung and the Hebei Spirit side, and that the cause of the collision mostly originated on the side of Samsung’ s tug boats.

The Hebei Spirit side is partly to be blamed for its negligence to prevent the collision and the excessive oil leakage, which caused the marine pollution incident, as the measures they took under the Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plans were inadequate.

Unlike the UK and US procedures for examining the cause of marine incidents, which end after a simple investigation by a public investigator, under the Korean system, while a district maritime safety tribunal gives a ruling as the court of first instance, an appeal can be made to the Korea Central Maritime Safety Tribunal as the court of second instance.

Therefore, as the legal representatives of Samsung and Hebei Spirit filed their cases to the Central Maritime Safety Tribunal in September respectively (second instance), the decision by the Incheon Maritime Safety Tribunal (first instance) has been nullified. Likewise, the decision by the Central Tribunal will serve as the final report.

The original copies of the decision by the Incheon Maritime Safety Tribunal were sent to the attorneys of the parties related to the incident.

Also, the Korean government has not violated any IMO regulations for not sending copies to Hong Kong’s Marine Department and the IMO, because the final decision by the Korea Central Maritime Safety Tribunal remains pending.

Upon its publication, the final report will be submitted to the IMO and may also be made available to Hong Kong’s Marine Department.

The government of the Republic of Korea very much regrets that your article of September 26 speculated that South Korean maritime officials, the prosecution and Samsung Heavy Industries’ lawyers colluded with one another, as it is an extremely one-sided view that is not based on the actual facts of the incident.

Government of the Republic of Korea
Embassy of the Republic of Korea
60 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AJ

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– The Korea Times 4.23.2009 – Top Court Holds Samsung, Hebei Guilty of Oil Spill

By Park Si-soo, Staff Reporter

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that both Samsung Heavy Industries and Hong Kong-based shipping company, Hebei, were guilty of causing the nation’s worst oil spill off Taean, South Chungcheong Province, in December 2007, partially upholding an appellate court ruling.

The court confirmed the 30-million-won ($22,300) fines handed down to both companies. However, it overturned jail terms and fines given by the lower court to officials at Samsung and the Hong Kong-registered Hebei Spirit for the oil spill.

The appellate court ― Daejeon District Court ― is to review the jail terms and fines imposed on the officials.

The spill occurred on Dec. 7, 2007, when the Hong Kong-registered supertanker was rammed by a Samsung barge that broke free of towlines attached to tugboats about 11 kilometers off Mallipo, a beach in Taean. Some 12,000 tons of crude oil gushed into the sea, more than twice as much as the nation’s previous worst spill in 1995.

In December 2008, the Daejeon court ruled that both Samsung and Hebei were responsible for the damage. Each company was fined 30 million won, while some of their employees were sentenced to imprisonment.

But the top court’s judgment overturned the convictions on the 53-year-old captain of the Samsung barge and the 37-year-old captain of the Hebei Spirit tanker and sent the case back to the appellate court for further review.

The two captains had been given 30-month and 18-month jail terms, respectively, and were also fined two million won and 10 million won. Jail sentences and fines on two other Samsung officials and a Hebei crewmember were also repealed.

Currently, a separate civil compensation suit between Taean residents and Samsung Heavy is still underway. Last month, a local court decided to limit the compensation to 5.6 billion won in a case filed by some 7,500 fishermen in the region.

In June of 2008, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds estimated the damage from the Taean spill to reach up to 573.5 billion won due to a decrease in tourists and damage to the fishing industry.

The man-made catastrophe played havoc with Taean’s maritime ecosystem, including numerous scenic beaches, wildlife habitats, oyster beds and fishing.

pss@koreatimes.co.kr

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– Taiwan News 4.23.2009 –

.
South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a review of the jail sentences handed down to four sailors in the country’s worst oil spill in 2007.A wayward crane-carrying barge slammed into Hong Kong-registered tanker Hebei Spirit, causing it to leak nearly 80,000 barrels of oil off South Korea’s western coast. The spill jeopardized the ecosystem and the livelihood of residents in the area.
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– The Korea Times 1.21.2009 – Hebei Spirit Case Getting International Spotlight

By Michael Ha
Staff Reporter

Two Indian seafarers who had been found guilty by an appeals court of criminal negligence in connection with the Taean oil spill incident are now out on bail.

Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan were released from a local detention center last week when the Supreme Court granted their request for bail, set at $10,000 for each officer.

V. Ships, a shipping management firm and employer of the two men, issued a statement welcoming their release, saying “senior management and all trade associations thank the Supreme Court in Seoul for this decision and the Korean government, for the first positive steps in resolving this case.”

The case has attracted attention from abroad, particularly from international trade unions and shipping management groups, who strongly objected to the appeal court’s ruling. Trade unions abroad have described the verdict as “scapegoating” by the local judicial system and stated that the oil tanker and its crew were “passive victims” in the collision with an oncoming barge.

The two seafarers have appealed their jail sentences and will continue to stay in Korea until the nation’s top court reaches its verdict sometime before June.

The two men were sentenced last December for their involvement in polluting Korea’s western coast in December 2007 when their oil tanker was hit by a runaway barge and spilled more than 10,000 tons of crude oil into costal waters. The barge was being towed by two tugs under severe storm conditions when one of the hawsers connecting it to them severed, leaving it adrift. It then smashed into the side of the fully loaded oil tanker, Hebei Spirit, which was at anchor.

The resulting oil spill damaged the Taean region’s ecosystem and tourism along the country’s pristine west coast beaches, through large-scale pollution, which devastated the livelihood of fishing communities in the area.

After being hit by the barge, the oil tanker’s outdated hull structure may also have contributed to the severity of the spill.

Lloyd’s Register-Fairplay is an international firm that provides maritime information to the shipping industry and assigns ship-registration numbers. According to the firm, Hebei Spirit was built with a single hull. An international ban on such ships is due to start in 2010. Modern tankers are fitted with two hulls to cut the risk of an oil spill but are more expensive to hire.

In December, the appeals court gave prison sentences ranging from eight months to 18 months to three Korean seafarers in connection with the collision.

Additionally, the appeals court also found Capt. Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan guilty of criminal negligence and misjudgment, reversing a lower court’s decision that found the two men innocent of criminal wrongdoing.

The appeals court argued that the two seafarers had made an error in that they could have avoided a collision with the oncoming barge by proceeding at full speed or half speed dragging the ship’s anchor at eight-minute intervals from the tow wire’s snapping to the barge battering the oil tanker hull.

Capt. Chawla was sentenced to 18 months, while Chief Officer Chetan was sentenced to eight months, but the ruling was met with condemnation from the shipping community abroad, including the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a group of 654 unions representing 4.5 million maritime and transport workers in 148 countries.

“Shipping industry bodies that have campaigned for the release of the Hebei Spirit officers in Korea have responded positively to the two men’s release on bail,” according to the ITF.

The group’s spokesman, commenting on the release of the two men, told The Korea Times, “We greatly appreciate this decision and consider it an enlightened one. The ITF and its partners in the `Free the Hebei Two’ campaign see their release on bail as the first positive step towards resolving the case. We pledge to continue to aid the two men until they are once again free, innocent and back with their families,” the spokesman said.

The oil spill was and is a desperately serious matter for those affected, including thousands of people living or working in the area, the spokesperson said. “They need compensation and help, and we can only hope to understand how they feel about the disaster.”

But he argued, “The need to help them and learn how to prevent such an accident happening again is not furthered by criminalizing two men for doing their jobs to the best of their abilities on a ship that was safely anchored when it was hit by another vessel.”

He also commented on the appellate court ruling that overturned the lower court verdict, which found the two men innocent. It determined that the captain of Heibei Spirit could have avoided the collision, but the ITF spokesperson noted, “you can ask almost any serving seafarer or maritime expert worldwide the same question and the answer you’ll get is that there was no time to avoid being hit.”

The crew, he said, “being the professionals they are, did what they could, indeed what anyone could, to stop the situation from getting worse. We struggle to think of a case where the officers of a ship that was hit by another vessel whilst it was at anchor were prosecuted.”

The Taean spill was the worst oil spill incident in the country’s history, surpassing a 1995 accident in South Korean waters when 5,000 tons of oil leaked in the Yeosu region, 455 kilometers south of Seoul. About 2.2 million people, or 4 percent of the total population, participated in the Taean cleanup, according to news accounts.

It is estimated that more than $500 million has been spent on the oil spill. Last year, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs also announced an additional three trillion won in restoration and compensation. The Hebei Spirit leak was about a third of the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of crude oil onto Alaskan shores, the costliest on record.

michaelha@koreatimes.co.kr

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From Global Sikh News –

South Korea releases Capt Jasprit Singh Chawla on bail

Sunday, January 18, 2009, 2:52

Seoul: After Uttarakhand Sikhs raised a lot of noise forcing Indian external affairs ministry to pull some levers and exercise diplomatic pressures, a South Korean court finally released Captain Jasprit Singh Chawla and Chief Officer Shyam Chetan. Both were bailed  from jail pending a final decision of the Supreme Court. Bail was set at $ 10,000 for each officer.

For the first time, the treatment of the Hebei Two has  brought together global union federation ITF, ship owners’ and managers’ associations INTERTANKO, Intercargo and InterManager, the International Maritime Employers’ Committee (IMEC) along with Indian Trade Unions, BIMCO and the International Group of P+I Clubs, to name but a few.

Consequently, the trade associations and unions involved in the planned action – V.Ships, the ITF, INTERTANKO, Intercargo and IMEC – have agreed to cancel the rally scheduled for January 23 in London. The participants believe that a postponement of the planned action will create a better environment for a successful resolution to this long running saga.

Earlier, the Sikh community in Uttarakhand had asked the Indian Government to take up on top priority basis the case of release of the two Merchant Navy officers who were languishing in the  South Korean jail after being convicted in the Hebei Spirit oil spill case of December 2007.

The Punjab-origin Dehradun-based mariner Captain Jasprit Singh Chawla was sentenced to one-and-a-half-year’s imprisonment by a South Korean court for the oil spill, his colleague to a lesser jail term.

The tanker was tied at a jetty when a crane of Samsung Company hit it and this led to an oil spill for which the two were being held as accused. Both were convicted for negligence in the Hebei Spirit Oil spill, and had appealed the decision in the South Korean Supreme Court. It normally takes between six months to a year for the Supreme Court of Korea to decide on an appeal against a district court judgment.

The Korean high court held the two officers responsible for the spill. Both were sentenced to imprisonment and a fine of 13,990 US dollars. The convictions in the Korean High Court in December 2008 came after their acquittal in a lower court.

Uttarakhand’s Sikh Federation has strongly taken up the case. Last Friday, the Sikh Federation had organized a rally which had marched up to the Collectorate in Dehradun where members submitted a memorandum to the district magistrate Amit Negi. A demonstration was also held in Delhi.

Manjeet Singh Chawla, Captain Chawla’s father, said he had received an assurance from the Prime Minister’s Office that the matter was being looked into.

How Jasprit Singh Chawla Kept His Faith

The one thing that Jasprit Singh Chawla clung to during the days of ordeal was his Sikh faith, getting up every single day at 5:30 am for his Nitnem.

Back home, Jasprit Kaur Chawla’s lovely wife Gurpreet Kaur Chawla could hardly ever sleep peacefully all these months. Her year long fight was exhausting and with the system being so apathetic, it also perhaps gave her an insight into the unfairness built in into the way government machinery works. But there was not a moment when she was not praying to Akalpurakh for her husband’s safety and return.

Actually, the guilty verdict was not even expected, particularly because the crew members had already been acquitted earlier by a lower court. “The chief officer did not even get to say goodbye to his family,” said Capt. Sharad Saldanha of V.Ships, the company that manages the tanker. “They got to meet the next day. But the families were not present in court, because none of us expected such a total U-turn of judgment. Not only us but the whole maritime community; all the international organizations are totally shocked.”

The ruling has met with condemnation from the shipping community. The International Transport Workers Federation and other shipping bodies have both slammed the verdict, calling it a vindictive decision.

“The captain is a very religious man. He gets up at 5:30 every morning to say his prayers. In fact, when he arrived in prison, his main concerns were getting his armlet, which is a religious thing, and his turban,” Saldanha had told The Korean Herald. He used to spend most of his day praying and reading religious books.

“He doesn’t want to read anything else – he just wants to read religious books. He wants to know what is happening outside with this case and religious books. Other than that he is not interested in reading.”

Chawla, who does not eat non-vegetarian food for religious reasons, avoided most of the prison food as vegetarian options were too little. He survived on just rice and water since the 10th of December. His colleagues were well aware that his health was deteriorating. Chawla was kept in a small individual cell and was let out for one hour a day.

Back home, Gurpreet was doing her level best to keep the children studying and not letting them know that their father was in jail.  The son is 7-year-old and the daughter is four. Responding to son’s sensitive questions about papa was perhaps one of the most difficult tasks. “Why are you going early in the morning daily to meet him?” he would often ask as Gurpreet would be networking to see what was happening. Soon, the seven year old was to find out from the commotion that was always there around the mom. ‘Mama, why is papa in jail?’ Naturally, it affected the health of Chawla’s wider family that included his old parents. Jasprit is the only son of his parents, and his grandmother has been bedridden for eight months. She is happy and waiting to see him.

The wife of Shyam Chetan is due in Korea this week. His father, Commodore DR Syam is a high-ranking seaman and is working to raise awareness and support for the case.

Indian Embassy First Secretary Kirat Vaze was charged with looking after the welfare of these two officers.

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The Korea Herald, Friday 16th January, 2009

Taean oil spill tanker crew released on bail

The two Indian seamen jailed for involvement in the Taean oil spill were given bail yesterday pending an appeal.

Capt. Jasprit Chawla and chief officer Syam Chetan were in charge of the Hebei Spirit, an oil tanker that leaked 10,800 tons of oil off the west coast when an out of control Samsung-owned barge slammed into it.

An appeals court sentenced Chawla to 18 months and Chetan to 8 months on Dec. 10 for failing to do enough to prevent and limit the oil spill.

A lower court had cleared the two men in July.

There was concern about Chawla’s health. He had been living off rice and water since his internment, as he could not eat the food provided for religious reasons.

“It is very welcome news,” said Capt. Sharad Saldanha of V.Ships, the company that manages the tanker. “After so many days we are finally seeing some light.”

No date has yet been set for the appeal.

By Paul Kerry

(paulkerry@heraldm.com)

2009.01.16

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The Korea Times, Thursday, 15th January, 2009:

01-15-2009 18:31

Indian Seafarers to Be Released on Bail

By Michael Ha
Staff Reporter

Two Indian maritime officers being held at the Cheongju Detention Center in connection with the nation’s worst oil spill incident will be released on bail.

V. Ships, a ship management company which employs the two seafarers, told The Korea Times that a local court had agreed to release them on bail. They were expected to leave the detention center early Friday morning at the latest, according to the company.

“We have confirmation that bail has been granted by the Supreme Court. There are some formalities that have to be completed that are being done by their lawyers right now,” according to a representative from V. Ships. “We will try to get them released by Friday morning at the latest.”

“They will continue to stay in Korea until a final ruling is reached by the Supreme Court. They will now be staying with their families who are visiting from India.”

The two men have been held in Korea for more than 400 days. Although cleared by a lower court in June 2008 of responsibility for the collision at the Taean oil spill, they had continued to be detained pending hearing by an appeal court which last month declared the two men guilty and sentenced them.

The controversy surrounds a Dec. 10, 2008, court ruling in the Taean oil spill incident, the largest oil spill in the country’s history. The court gave Jasprit Chawla, master of the Hebei Spirit oil tanker, an 18-month jail term and Syam Chetan, the chief officer, an eight-month sentence. The oil tanker spilt more than 10,000 tons of crude oil into the West Sea on Dec. 7, 2007.

But critics say the two men and their oil tanker were “passive victims,” noting that their ship was sitting at anchor and that it leaked oil only after being rammed by a barge owned by Samsung Heavy Industries.

Meanwhile in the U.K., trade unionists, and shipping industry representatives have announced they will hold a rally outside the Korean embassy in London on Jan. 23. The rally will bring together organizations including global union federation the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), ship-owners and managers associations Intertanko and Intercargo, the International Maritime Employers’ Committee (IMEC), along with Indian trade unions.

The ITF, a group of 654 unions representing 4.5 million maritime and transport workers in 148 countries, has publicly criticized the verdict.

“This is not justice. It’s not even something close,” the group stated. “What we have seen is scapegoating, criminalization and a refusal to consider the wider body of evidence that calls into question the propriety of the court.”

In the first trial in June, the two foreign officers were exonerated. But in the subsequent proceeding in the appeals court last December, the original ruling was overturned on the grounds that the Hebei Spirit crew should have done more to avoid the collision.

According to lawyers representing the two Indian officers, appeals have been filed before the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to issue a ruling on the case sometime before June.

michaelthewriter@gmail.com

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From The Korea Herald, published Wednesday, 14th January, 2009

For seamen, it’s hell and high water

It has been a distressing 13 months for Gurpreet Kaur Chawla.

Her husband, Capt. Jasprit Chawla has been unable to leave Korea since the Hebei Spirit, the tanker he captained, was holed by a Samsung barge, causing the country’s worst-ever oil spill off Taean County, South Chungcheong Province.

Torn between home and husband, she has spent an exhausting year looking after their children in India, while supporting her spouse in Korea.

Since December that job has gotten even tougher.

In 2008 Lloyds List nominated Chawla for their “Shipmaster of the Year” award, for his actions during the oil spill. But on Dec. 10 last year a Korean court jailed him and his chief officer Syam Chetan for those very actions.

“The chief officer did not even get to say goodbye to his family,” said Capt. Sharad Saldanha of V.Ships, the company that manages the tanker. “They got to meet the next day. But the families were not present in court, because none of us expected such a total U-turn of judgment. Not only us but the whole maritime community; all the international organizations are totally shocked.”

On Dec. 7, 2007 a crane barge broke free from one of the barges towing it and ran into the side of the Hebei Spirit, which was at anchor. The collision caused 10,800 tons of crude oil to flow into the sea, polluting much of Korea’s coastline.

The event was dubbed Korea’s worst-ever environmental disaster, while local tourism and fishing industries were severely damaged.

Environmental groups say it will take years to clean up the damage.

A lower court had cleared the two Indian seamen of wrongdoing in July, but then an appeals court sentenced Chawla to 18 months for negligence in avoiding the collision and for not doing enough to limit the spill. His first officer was sentenced to eight months.

The ruling has met with condemnation from the shipping community. The International Transport Workers Federation and other shipping bodies have both slammed the verdict, calling it a vindictive decision.

For the Chawla family, it has turned their lives upside down, especially in terms of their children’s schooling.

“(Ms. Chawla) was trying to teach (their kids) at home, but after Dec. 10 she has been extremely busy. She has not been able to do that, so his schoolwork is totally out of the window. He will probably lose this year of school, and if this goes on even two years of school,” Saldanha said.

“They are trying to shift between both (school and Korea) but after the 10th, it has been very difficult and it has almost come to a complete halt, because she has no time to give them.”

“Even to look after them,” Mrs. Chawla said. “I don’t know today whether they are hungry or whether they have had their food.”

Saldanha said the children have not been told that their father is in jail.

“We feel that because there’s so much happening that they probably know about it, but it’s difficult with the children,” he said. “Especially since one of them is 7 and one of them is 4. The small one it is okay, but for the 7 year old it is quite traumatic.

“He’s actually quite confused as to what is happening.”

“Many times he asks so many questions,” Mrs. Chawla said. “He has many questions, like ‘where is papa?’ ‘Why are you going early in the morning daily to meet him?'”

“Then he heard somebody saying that his father is in jail so he asked me ‘Mama, why is somebody telling me that papa is in jail?’ Then he asks me ‘Mama, why is papa in jail?'”

It has affected the health of Chawla’s wider family, Mrs. Chawla said.

“He has old parents. He is the only son of his parents, and his grandmother has been bedridden for eight months and she is waiting to see him,” she said.

Mrs. Chawla stressed her husband’s sense of duty to his family, saying that he only took what he needed of his salary and gave the rest to his parents.

“He is a very God-fearing, very pious man. And he has a great sense of duty. He believes in perfection of duties. Whether it is on board, whether it is towards the family — towards the wife, towards the children or towards the parents — he’s a very dutiful man. He’s a man of moral values, human values.”

One thing that the Chawla has clung to is his Sikh faith.

“The captain is a very religious man. He gets up at 5:30 every morning to say his prayers. In fact, when he arrived in prison, his main concerns were getting his armlet, which is a religious thing, and his turban,” Saldanha said.

He spends most of his day praying and reading religious books.

“He doesn’t want to read anything else — he just wants to read religious books. He wants to know what is happening outside with this case and religious books. Other than that he is not interested in reading.”

Unfortunately his faith has meant that he cannot eat the prison food, as no vegetarian options are available.

“Since the 10th of December, he’s been on rice and water. If you see him, you meet him every day, you can tell that his health is deteriorating. They tell me that doctors are seeing him every day but there is only so much someone can do on rice and water,” Saldanha said.

Chawla has a small individual cell, with a TV with one channel — in Korean. He is let out for one hour a day. This and visits are the only time he can speak with other people.

The two Indian seafarers are being held in the same detention center. Despite this they cannot speak to each other, as they are still involved in the same case.

“When you go to meet them they are always asking how the other one is doing,” Saldanha said.

But he points out that conditions in the Cheongju Detention Center are much better than in Daejeon, where they were originally held. There was no heating in Daejeon and the cell was barely larger than a single bed.

Now there is heating and other conditions are slightly better. There is a television, too, but since the only channel available is in Korean, it acts as little more than moving wallpaper. The main difficulties are the isolation and the food.

“We understand this is the standard treatment in Korea,” Saldanha said.

The prison allows visits of 20 minutes a day, except holidays. It’s a short period, but owing to the traveling time, the visit takes up most of the day.

Even face to face with her husband, the experience is a distant one.

“During the meeting there is a thick glass wall between Capt. Chawla and me and I have to speak to him through a microphone. I can’t touch him — I can only see him,” Mrs. Chawla said.

Mrs. Chawla plans to return to India later this month to support her children’s education. The mood at home is one of disappointment and frustration, but family members are trying to rally support for their cause.

The wife of Syam Chetan is due in Korea this week. His father, Commodore DR Syam is a high-ranking seaman and is working to raise awareness and support for the case.

Indian Embassy First Secretary Kirat Vaze said that he would work to improve conditions of the seamen. But he added that there were cultural differences that may be difficult to reconcile.

“I am charged with looking after the welfare of these two officers. I really am trying my best, but I do not really know whether my best is good enough because there are circumstances, like Mrs. Chawla has said to you, which may be culturally different,” Vaze said. “But when we talk about a thing like food, I equate it with the basic human rights of a person. You have to give him something on which he can subsist. He cannot live on rice and water.”

Indian unions are calling for a boycott of Korean goods. The NUSI has promised definitive action if the decision is not reversed. There is speculation that action could be a boycott of voyages here, which would be problematic for Korea’s economy. On a broader basis, some say that this could increase the cost of insuring sea voyages here, which would raise the cost of importing and exporting goods.

Trade organizations have said they would not oppose attempts by its members to boycott voyages to Korea.

“All the international workers federations have supported this. If I were a seafarer, I would not want to come to Korea knowing that I could go to jail for something which is not even my fault,” Saldanha said.

“A fair trial must be given,” Mrs. Chawla said. “We want justice only.

“To restore the faith in the judicial system of Korea, bail should be given to them as soon as possible. The whole world is watching.”

By Paul Kerry

(paulkerry@heraldm.com)

2009.01.14

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In December last year, the Daejeon District Court sentenced two Indian crew members of the tanker to 18 months and eight months in prison, respectively, for professional negligence and violating anti-pollution laws.

The court also handed down prison sentences ranging from 30 months to 18 months to two South Korean sailors of the barge and its tugboat.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the appellate court, citing a legal misunderstanding.

The Supreme Court, however, upheld the verdict that fined the operator of the barge _ Samsung Heavy Industries _ and the owner of the tanker, Hebei Spirit Shipping Co., 30 million won ($22,000) each.

Associated Press 2009-04-23 07:20 PM

In December last year, the Daejeon District Court sentenced two Indian crew members of the tanker to 18 months and eight months in prison, respectively, for professional negligence and violating anti-pollution laws.

The court also handed down prison sentences ranging from 30 months to 18 months to two South Korean sailors of the barge and its tugboat.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the appellate court, citing a legal misunderstanding.

The Supreme Court, however, upheld the verdict that fined the operator of the barge _ Samsung Heavy Industries _ and the owner of the tanker, Hebei Spirit Shipping Co., 30 million won ($22,000) each.

Associated Press 2009-04-23 07:20 PM

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– The Korea Times,  Tuesday, 13th January, 2009

Oil Spill and Boycott of Korean Products

By Mark Shryock

The imprisonment of the Hebei Spirit’s two most senior officers, Master Jasprit Chawla and Syam Chetan, for allowing their ship to be rammed while at safe anchor by a barge owned by Samsung Heavy Industries has infuriated the global maritime community, India, and the world at large.

Calls for a boycott of products from Korea, and especially those produced by Samsung, are now beginning to be heard from across the globe.

The two men, both Indian nationals, have been detained in Korea under house arrest since the worst oil spill in Korea’s history occurred in December 2007. Despite being found innocent by a Korean lower court, the Korean prosecution appealed the case and won.

On Dec. 10, Chawla and Chetan were handcuffed and led off to serve a sentence of 18 months and eight months, respectively. They are rapidly becoming international heroes while at the same time Korea grows more and more unpopular.

The irony is that while their case is gaining international momentum on a daily basis, in Korea the imprisonment of Chawla and Chetan has prompted little interest.

But scrutiny of the case should be raised in Korea immediately because it is beginning to damage Korea’s public image abroad. There has been much talk lately about branding Korea. Unfortunately, this issue is branding Korea in the worst ways possible.

The shipping world is starting to threaten the halting of all shipments to Korea. This is in addition to an already well-organized movement in the shipping world and India to create a global boycott of Korean goods.

The U.K. newspaper, the Financial Times, recently published an article saying that, “If the boycott movement grows, Korea will be placed in a very serious situation, as it imports all of its energy from abroad.”

Korea should be seriously concerned over this possible scenario. But Korea should also be concerned that at a time of a global financial crisis the international financial media is beginning to print speculation of the possible financial consequences of such boycotts.

I can say personally that I have met with a group of internationally connected bankers who feel this issue is already hurting Korea and has the potential to be catastrophic.

In addition to this, thousands have already gathered in protest rallies in India. Calls for a boycott of Korean products are now numerous and growing daily. This is now spreading beyond just the shipping industry and India, and is beginning to be heard in growing sectors around the world.

The Chosun Ilbo also quoted a Chennai-based member of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) as saying,“When you consider the inclinations of the Indian people, the large-scale demonstrations by the Indian sailors’ organizations could spark a widespread boycott of Korean goods such as Hyundai cars and Samsung and LG electronics, so the government has to take effective counter-action.”

The KOTRA official was quoted as adding, “If the sailors are not released then Hyundai cars might not be able to come in.”

Internationally, Korea is also beginning to look corrupt and vindictive, which is a brand image Korea can ill afford.

Wikipedia states, “According to Lloyd’s List and other media reports, Korean maritime officials, prosecutors and Samsung lawyers have been accused of colluding in the retrial of the two senior officers.”

According to Wikipedia, Robert Giorgi, president of management firm V.Ships told the press he is concerned at recent developments “which point to collusion.” He stated this prior to the appeal and also said that he did not feel confident the men would get a fair trial.

The fact that in print all over the world are the words “efforts of Samsung and prosecutors look to be designed (so) that the master and the chief officers are found guilty on appeal” should be a cause of great concern.

It means the rest of the world is having extreme difficulty in understanding the verdict arrived at on appeal Dec. 10. Many Koreans are sympathetic to the fisherman and feel someone should be punished regardless of the technical guilt.

Indeed, this may be what drove the prosecutors to retry this case ― and not collusion. I have seen no clear evidence that shows any collusion between Samsung and the prosecutors. But this does not matter.

To much of the rest of the world, this verdict is such a mockery of justice that collusion seems the only plausible answer. Korea needs to understand it can no longer afford this kind of justice and that the cultural need for this kind of justice had better be rethought.

This issue is not going to go away and the longer Korea detains these men, the greater the negative branding is going to be.

I have a master’s degree in restoration ecology. My degree and expertise are designed to fix in nature what humans have harmed. Because of my love of the earth, I feel rage and despair over the Taean oil spill.

I understand deeply the grief and anger all Koreans feel over this disaster. I never thought as an ecology writer I would be writing an article that argues for the freedom of anyone connected to something so damaging to the earth.

But the more I looked into the imprisonment of Chawla and Chetan I knew that’s what I had to do. They are not responsible for the great wound Korea has suffered over the oil spill. On Dec. 31, I went to the Indian embassy and met with Mrs. Chawla and Mrs. Chetan.

I sat across from them and looked into their tear-filled eyes and promised them I would write this story. But I did not write this story just for them.

I see a great nation, a nation that I have grown to know and love, inflicting great harm upon itself. Let Chawla and Mr Chetan go free and let all of us begin the great work of healing from this deep wound.

Mark Shryock is professor of English at Kangnung National University’s Wonju Campus in Gangwon Province. He is also a writer, ecologist, and artist who came from Joplin, Mo., in the United States. He can be reached at Markshryock@yahoo.com The views expressed in the above article are those of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of The Korea Times.

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