South Korea holding Indian seamen in unjust detention: India

October 26th, 2008 - 4:25 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 26 (IANS) India has told South Korea it must release two Indian seamen it is holding for an environmental crime they are innocent of.India told members of the London-based International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a UN body, that 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 was captaining a huge Hong Kong-registered oil tanker, the Hebei Spirit, which was carrying 2,64,000 tonnes of crude oil when a crane barge owned by Samsung, a South Korean multinational company, 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 the barge.

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.

India’s intervention at the IMO was supported by China and Liberia.

In addition, the cause of the two Indians have been taken up globally by a number of shipping and maritime organisations, including the Asian Shipowers’ 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)

Shiv Shanker Mukherjee, India’s High Commissioner to Britain and Permanent Representative to the IMO, said the detention of the two men in a South Korean hotel must be looked at from “the humanitarian and legal points of view.”

“These men have been away from their near and dear ones for nearly a year now, and their release will have the wide support of the seafaring community,” Mukherjee told IANS Sunday after dispatching one of his senior diplomats to make an intervention at the IMO.

In its intervention, India said the detention of Chawla and Chetan - both married men with children - is “unjust and unreasonable” and had global implications.

“The continued unjust and unreasonable detention highlights the injustices that are often perpetrated on ship masters who, more often than not, bear little responsibility for an accident - other than the fact that they were in command of the vessel that is involved in an accident,” India said.

It said the two men were being “victimized due to a malicious web of extra-judicial and/or extra-legal interpretation of the local law.”

Their only fault, said India, was to have been aboard the Hebei Spirit when the South Korean barge broke loose from one its tug-boats and collided with the tanker.

While remaining committed to protecting the environment, India said it “cannot and will not support the criminalization of seafarers, nor unjust, unreasonable and unfair treatment that is contrary to the principles of the IMO and ILO (International Labour Organisation).”

The London-based South Korean diplomat responsible for maritime affairs did not answer queries emailed to it by IANS about the detention of Chawla and Chetan.

Senior Indian diplomats, however, said they are mystified about the reasons why prosecutors went into appeal against the court decision.

They say the International Oil Pollution Control Fund, a London-based inter-governmental organisation, has granted a “full and final” settlement after the South Koreans filed a claim with it.

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