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March 27, 2009

V. Ships slams Hebei Two accusations by Korean Register chief

V. Ships has responded to what it terms a "very regrettable article" appeared on Tuesday 24, in Lloyds List quoting the Chairman of the Korean Register, who is also the current Chairman of IACS, Mr. Oh Kong-gyun.

V. Ships says that Mr. Oh made a number of most damaging and deplorable accusations against the Master and Chief Officer of the Hebei Spirit, Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan, who remain in country detention in Korea after 15 months.

V.Ships says, that faced with his own statements and the damage they could cause, Mr. Oh canceled a scheduled trip to Washington and made a personal apology to the president of V.Ships stating that there had been some misunderstanding and that he was only trying to convey misconceptions held in Korea.

V.Ships believes that the accusations were so injurious to the cause of the two Hebei officers that a clear and forthright response is required.

"We welcome Mr. Oh's admission that the treatment of the Hebei Two was "regrettable" and applaud his efforts to gather support to change the laws in Korea "to make sure this kind of ill treatment of seafarers does not happen," said Mr Bob Bishop, CEO of V.Ships.

"We are however, horrified by the quoted assertion that the Hebei Two were arrested because 'they did not tell the truth when they were investigated by the judicial branch of the Korean Court system' and 'hid some information that was revealed to be untrue and they manipulated some VDR information.'"

V.Ships says it is adamant that these statements are manifestly untrue.

The Hebei Two cooperated fully with the Korean authorities in all of their investigations, and have both throughout told the truth and nothing but the truth. This was so, notwithstanding the many lengthy and repeated interviews conducted notably by the Korean Maritime Police (KMP), which were more in the nature of interrogations; which were conducted late into the night; and which would be considered oppressive in most other jurisdictions.

"Indeed," says V.Ships, "we had the distinct impression at times that these investigations, which began as a genuine attempt to establish the facts of the case -- a 'fact finding' exercise--changed as time went on into a 'fault finding' exercise bordering on a 'fault making' exercise with what appeared to us to be deliberate attempts by the KMP to find ways to 'trip up' the two crew. The same approach was repeated by the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal (KMST) which went to extreme lengths to find fault with the actions of the Hebei Two. The KMST reports have attracted wide-spread international condemnation as a result, and also for the way in which the KMST conducted their investigations in complete disregard of the relevant IMO Regulations."

V. Ships says that the hard drive from the VDR of the Hebei Spirit was subjected to close examination by computer experts from the manufacturers of the VDR in Denmark, and in the presence of representatives from the Korean authorities and the vessel's P&I Club. This examination confirmed that the VDR had not been tampered with in any way, shape or form. The reason for the absence of any data covering the time of the collision was simply that Captain Chawla had omitted to activate the back-up facility on the day of the collision--perhaps due to his giving priority to saving the ship, stopping the leaking oil as the Samsung crane bounced along the hull of the Hebei Spirit-- from bow to stern; an omission he readily confessed to the Korean authorities.

Despite this, says V. Ships, the lawyers for Samsung (the owners and operators of the crane barge that caused the damage to the oil cargo tanks) have continually focused on this issue "in a malicious, misguided, and unsuccessful attempt to convince the Korean Courts that there has been some foul play. In doing so, they have afforded yet another example of the extreme lengths certain organizations in Korea are prepared to go to in their efforts to secure the convictions of two innocent and exemplary ship's officers."

"Mr. Oh said the western media 'were not fully appraised of all the facts of the case.' He is right. This is because managers and owners of the Hebei Spirit have largely refrained from commenting in any great detail about all that has gone on during the investigations and criminal proceedings in Korea.

"We have instead, quietly placed our trust in the independence and integrity of the Korean judicial system, which - until the lamentable decision of the Korean Appeal Court had given us no serious cause to complain.

"We sincerely hope that the Korean Supreme Court will right the incredible injustices that have been done to the Hebei Two, and in so doing, to restore our and the international shipping industry's confidence in the Korean legal system. If the Hebei Two are not acquitted of all charges however, we anticipate the international reputation of Korea will be sadly tarnished.

"In this regard, we are concerned that Mr. Oh as well, does not appear to be fully appraised of all of the facts of this case. This is perhaps understandable as to our knowledge, the Korean Register did not participate in the criminal court proceedings or those of the KMST; and we question therefore, whether Mr. Oh is in any position to comment authoritatively about this case. If he or his organization are now receiving information about the case from other sources, then it would appear that they are being fed wrong information.

"It certainly appears that Mr. Oh has not read the judgment of the Korean Appeal Court as, if he had done, so he would know that the Hebei Two were not detained for the reasons he says. Indeed, if they had been so detained his comments would amount to a very sad indictment of the Korean legal system.

"We also find Mr. Oh's reported comments particularly distressing as they are the very same mis-guided ones which are being advanced so vigorously and maliciously by the lawyers for Samsung in their desperate efforts to deflect attention away from the failings of their own clients and to find fault with the Hebei Two. We trust that the obvious conclusions to be drawn from this sorry episode are not the correct ones."

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