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Unions condemn treatment of bunker spill officers

Trade unions jointly unite to condemn court Full City 'u-turn'.

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Updated on 16 Oct 2009 07:21 GMT

InterManager, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and Norwegian seafarers’ trade unions have jointly condemned what they are calling the worst case of seafarer victimisation since the Hebei Spirit.

According to the ITF, InterManager, the Norsk Sjømannsforbund, the Norsk Sjøoffisersforbund, and Det norske maskinistforbund, the treatment of two officers of the ship Full City, who were arrested in Norway when it ran aground at the end of July spilling some of its bunker fuel, is “legally and morally indefensible”.

The two men, Zong Aming and Qiland Lu, were expected to be allowed to return home to China this week, but in what is described as "a surprise u-turn" the appeal court is reported to have reversed an earlier court decision and altered its bail conditions to keep them in the country pending a trial for negligence that is unlikely to be held until next year.

Roberto Giorgi, President of InterManager commented: “This is looking all too much like another Hebei Spirit, where seafarers doing their job are hauled in front of a court to satisfy an illusory public requirement that someone gets punished when oil leaks onto water. This automatic reaching for the handcuffs is emphatically not the way to solve the fact that sometimes ships get into trouble, and actively undermines all the efforts everyone in shipping puts into making sure that safe is made paramount. Norway, a nation that understands safe shipping more than most, has shot itself in the foot by pandering to ignorance of the realities and a desire to blame someone, anyone, when things go wrong.”

David Cockroft, ITF General Secretary, added: “The criminalisation of seafarers – the vilification of workers for accidents that may be beyond their control – is one of the ugliest developments in shipping. We all support the investigation of accidents, the learning of lessons from them and the identification of blame where it is truly found to have played a part, but this goes beyond that. Sadly, it appears that once again we are looking at a knee-jerk response to an incident, which, more sadly still, is happening in the country where you’d least expect it.”

Captain Hans Sande, Director of the Norsk Sjøoffisersforbund (Norwegian Maritime Officers’ Association) explained: “There is a wealth of maritime experience in Norway and we hope that some of it will find its way into the judicial process. If that happens the court case will be dropped and the normal maritime investigation processes will be free to take action unfettered by political considerations or nods to public opinion. If common sense prevails then the lessons of the grounding will be identified and learned, and the cargoes that we all rely on to sustain our way of life in every country in the world will travel that little bit more safely. If not we will once again see, not just the criminalisation of these two men, but a new generation of potential ship’s officers deciding that the job isn’t worth the risk of being unfairly pilloried that increasingly seems to come with it.”

Johnny Hansen, Vice President of the Norsk Sjømannsforbund (Norwegian Seafarers Union) also added his voice to today’s protest, describing the Full City case as “an inexplicable over-use of law that is wholly removed from the realities of the actual case.”

Hilde Gunn Avløyp, General Secretary of Det norske maskinistforbund (Norwegian Union of Marine Engineers) added: “It is impossible to understand how, when the court in Telemark ruled that both men could have their passports back and return home on payment of a bail sum of around US$172,000, they now are to be kept in Norway and their passports withheld.”

Related Links:

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