Supertanker crew aim to sue over hostage ordeal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2012, 12:00am


Four former crew on the South Korean supertanker Samho Dream are planning to seek compensation in Hong Kong's Admiralty Court for the emotional trauma of being held hostage after the ship was hijacked and held by Somali pirates for seven months in 2010.

Industry experts said this was only the second time the crew of a ship held captive by pirates had tried to claim compensation and damages for the mental anguish of their ordeal.

The Reverend Stephen Miller from the Mission to Seafarers, and Bjorn Hojgaard, chief executive of Univan Ship Management, said the other case involved nine crew on the Maersk Alabama who filed a claim in a US court last month. The Maersk Alabama was attacked and hijacked by pirates in 2009, although the crew were able to regain control of ship.

Admiralty judge Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes yesterday gave the four South Korean seamen 28 days to file a claim, after rejecting a request by their barrister, Harry Liu, for two months because he said they needed to be contacted in South Korea. The crew had already had more than 45 days to pursue their case after the Samho Dream was sold at auction in Hong Kong for US$28.9 million in January, and the 'court expected ... a kind of alacrity', the judge said.

The judge also ruled the court should retain US$2 million of the tanker's sale proceeds to cover any compensation payment to the crew.

The balance of the cash, less bailiff's and legal costs, will be used to help repay a US$120 million loan from a syndicate led by Shinhan Bank that was obtained by South Korea's Samho Shipping when it paid US$137.5 million to buy the tanker in early 2008. Samho Shipping, which is in bankruptcy protection, owed more than US$67 million on the mortgage, according to an earlier Admiralty Court hearing.

The 319,360-deadweight-tonne tanker was hijacked in April 2010 on a voyage transporting crude oil from Iraq to the United States. The ship was released in November the same year after Samho Shipping paid a near-record US$9.5 million ransom for the tanker and crew. The shipping company subsequently ran into financial problems, partly as a result of paying such a huge ransom, and the Samho Dream was arrested in Hong Kong in October by lawyers representing Shinhan Bank.