Two officers charged with criminal neglect over the Full City incident have been allowed to return home to China. Chinese captain Zong Aming and third officer Qilanng Lu were charged with criminal neglect after their 26,758dwt bulker ran aground in rough weather off Norway’s Langesund coast on 31 July last year, leading to a 150km-long oil slick.
The two officers were being held in custody in an Oslo hotel but were allowed to return home on 14 December. A Norwegian appeal court had ruled that the pair may have their passports returned after bail payments of NOK 1 million each. The officers are due to face charges of gross negligence at the Norwegian supreme court in February.
Although we’re very pleased the two officers were able to go home to China, which is a real improvement over previous criminalisation cases, the big issue now is how to stop these prosecutions happening in the first place,” David Cockroft, secretary-general of the International Transport Workers Federation, which campaigned for the release of the pair, told SASI.
Cockroft’s view was one that was condoned by Guy Morel, general-secretary of co-campaigner InterManager, the ship managers association. “I am very pleased with the decision to release the officers in a country like Norway which operates on democratic principles. We were very concerned that they would be held in custody away from their families during the very harsh Norwegian winter,” Morel told SASI.
“Obviously ships’ crews have responsibilities and liabilities but it is also important to take a democratic view, and officers should be deemed innocent until they are proved guilty,” Morel emphasised.
The detention of the two Chinese seafarers has already created controversy. “Norway’s court processes are certainly at variance with the IMO’s fair treatment guidelines,” Andrew Linington, campaign chief of the Anglo-Dutch seafarers’ union Nautilus International, told SASI.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union and InterManager have also condemned Norway’s actions as “the worst case of seafarer victimisation since Hebei Spirit”.
In the latter incident, a crane barge owned by Samsung Heavy Industries collided with tanker Hebei Spirit on 7 December 2007, resulting in a spill of more than 10,000 tonnes of oil. The tanker’s captain, Jasprit Chawla, and chief officer, Syam Chetan, were detained in South Korea for nearly 18 months before they gained the right to head home in June of this year, albeit with their reputations still tarred by the guilty verdict.