A technical paper submitted to IMO last week by the main shipping industry representative bodies refutes all the grounds on which the Korean Supreme Court found the master and mate of the VLCC Hebei Spirit guilty of criminal negligence.
The paper, submitted jointly by BIMCO, ICS, IFSMA, IGP&I, Intercargo, Intermanager, Intertanko, ISF, IT, IUMI and SIGTTO, is for consideration at May’s meeting of the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 60).
The Korean authorities based their judgement of the officers’ actions on three main points: they took soundings before doing anything else, they then injected inert gas into the cargo tanks and finally they did not use the cargo pumps at full power to transfer oil to undamaged tanks and thus list the vessel to minimise further outflow of oil.
Effectively the Korean criticism of the officers is that they wasted time when they should have acted to reduce the volume of the spill.
The paper argues that after their anchored vessel was hit by a barge the two officers “followed the good practices observed by seafarers and both acted correctly according to these good practices but were still penalised for their professional and correct actions”.
The shipping industry paper demonstrates in some depth that on each of these points the officers followed best pactice, including following IMO guidelines.
In the matter of transferring cargo and achieving a list the paper says that the officers were having to transfer cargo into tanks that were already almost full – process that takes much longer than if empty cargo tanks are used to receive the transferred cargo. “Consequently,” the papers says, “to a person unfamiliar with tanker operations this could be mistakenly perceived as an unnecessarily slow response.” The paper also highlights the problems with listing a vessel after a rupture of cargo tanks.
The industry bodies invite MEPC 60 to “note the comments expressed in this paper and comment as appropriate”.