Indian Sailors Protest Officers’ Sentencing In Korea

The shipping community in India has stepped up its campaign over the sentencing of two Indian seafarers, Captain Jasprit Chawla and chief officer Chetan Syam, in South Korea in connection with an oil spill in Korean waters in December 2007, media reports said.

Angry protesters gathered at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai Tuesday and destroyed electronic products made by the Korea’s Samsung group and pledged to boycott Korean products, especially from Seoul-headquartered group. The protest also saw other unions, like the Maritime Union of India (MUI), the Transport and Dock Workers Union, the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, Aviation Industries Employees Guild and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), joining in to condemn the judgment given by the South Korean court. Chawla and Chetan of Hebei Spirit, a very large crude carrier managed by V. Ships, were sentenced December 10 to 18 months and eight months in jail respectively by the Daejeon district court in South Korea. In addition, Chawla was fined thousands of U.S. dollars. This judgment reversed the earlier order of a lower court, which exonerated the two officers. According to the press note by the Indian Seafarers Federation (ISF) and media reports, Hebei Spirit, carrying 2,60,000 tons of crude oil, was anchored near the Port of Daesan on the Yellow Sea coast off Taean County in South Korean waters when a free-floating barge owned by Samsung collided with the ship and punctured it. Some 10,800 tons of oil was leaked along the coast, causing massive pollution and affecting the livelihoods of fishing communities. Shipping and maritime organizations across the board contend that the two officers were not to be blamed for the spillage. On the contrary, their efforts saved lives and prevented the tanker from exploding. The ISF has termed the judgment an “example of criminalization of seafarers for discharging their duties.” Decrying the judgment, Abdulgani Serang, general secretary of National Union of Seafarers (NUSI), accused the Samsung group of manipulation and said the inquiry report of the Korean maritime authorities was an “attempt to implicate the seafarers.”

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