‘Headway on detained Indian seamen’

November 15th, 2008 - 11:49 am ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 15 (IANS) Senior Indian officials expect progress by November end in efforts to secure the release of two Indian seamen that New Delhi says are being unjustly detained in South Korea.Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan have been held for nearly a year after an oil spill near Taean on the west coast of South Korea.

Chawla’s vessel, a Hong Kong-registered oil tanker, was moored and stationary when a South Korean crane-barge crashed into it in stormy weather.

The resultant spillage of over 10,000 tonnes of oil is thought to be South Korea’s worst, and authorities arrested five men - Chawla, Chetan and the skippers of the barge and the two tug-boats that were towing it.

A district court acquitted Chawla and Chetan of all charges June 23 but prosecutors appealed the case, which is now pending in a higher court, prompting Indian diplomats to voice strong concern at the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London in October.

Senior Indian officials raised the detention issue again this week at the biannual meeting of the IMO’s Council, and later said they expect “progress by the end of the month”.

“We expect things to be expedited,” Shipping Secretary A.P.V.N. Sarma told IANS.

The Indian delegation, making an intervention at the Council meeting, said such criminalisation of seafarers will “greatly impact the availability of seafarers and cause serious hindrance to the smooth of flow of international seaborne trade”.

There is a need to “release the crew on suitable guarantees”, which have been given by the Chinese owners of the tanker, the delegation said.

India’s stand has the support of China and Liberia - a leading flags-of-convenience nation.

In addition, the cause of the two Indians has been taken up globally by a number of shipping and maritime organisations, including the Asian Shipowners’ Forum, comprising owners from Australia, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea; the Federation of ASEAN Shipowners’ Associations; and the Monaco and Cyprus based International Ship Manager’s Association (InterManager)

Indian officials also say they want the IMO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) - a Geneva-based UN body - to strengthen guidelines on the criminalisation of seafarers.

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