The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds will begin paying compensation for damages relating to the Hebei Spirit oil spill, South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) announced on 3 June.
On 7 December 2007, Hebei Spirit, a Hebei Ocean Shipping Company-owned VLCC carrying 260,000 tonnes of oil, was anchored in South Korea’s Daesan port on the Yellow Sea coast when a Samsung Heavy Industries-owned crane barge, being towed by a tug, came into contact with it. The barge had broken free from the tug.
The incident resulted in three of Hebei Spirit’s five tanks being punctured, spilling 10,800 tonnes of oil into the sea and creating South Korea’s worst oil spill, affecting the earnings of fishermen in the region.
The South Korean government said that with the IOPC’s decision to disburse compensation, it will proceed to make advanced payouts to victims who filed for civil damages.
The IOPC comprises two inter-governmental organisations – the 1992 Fund and the Supplementary Fund – which provide compensation for damages caused by oil spills from tankers.
MOF said, “Usually, it is the shipowner’s P&I club who is firstly responsible for compensations in the event of an oil spill, but when the liabilities exceed the maximum amount the P&I club will cover, then the IOPC will contribute the difference.
“The tough shipping market in recent times has made it difficult for shipowners to afford higher premiums so the government is chipping in to ensure the victims can be compensated.”
Following a trial in June 2008, the tug captains and the barge captain were convicted of negligence and violating the marine pollution prevention law.
The captain and chief officer of Hebei Spirit, Jasprit Chawla and Syam Chetan, were convicted of violating marine law and jailed 18 months and eight months, a decision that sparked a protest by the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
Samsung Heavy Industries was also fined KRW30 million (USD27,000).
A state of emergency in the region was declared and the clean-up took over two months and cost KRW300 billion, with the South Korean authorities deploying 13 helicopters, 17 airplanes, and 327 vessels to clear the 33 km-long and 10 m-wide oil slick.
Hebei Spirit was demolished in 2012.