S Korean shipper in piracy drama targeted in HK over unpaid debt
South Korean shipowner Samho Shipping has had a tanker seized in Hong Kong over US$3.2 million in unpaid rental payments on two other ships, including one at the centre of a dramatic military rescue after it was hijacked by pirates.
The Hong Kong office of law firm Blank Rome arrested the 3,389 deadweight tonne (dwt) tanker Samho Garnet on behalf of the Norwegian owners of two similar tankers, the Samho Jewelry and Samho Heron.
These two tankers are owned by groups of Norwegian investors through a Stavangar-based investment company, Acta Holding.
The 19,924 dwt Samho Jewelry, with 21 crew onboard, was hijacked by Somali pirates on January 15.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ordered the destroyer Choi Young to retake the tanker six days later. Eight pirates were killed and five captured when the crew were rescued by South Korean commandos. Samho Shipping was also liable for daily charter payments during the period of the hijacking.
Blank Rome confirmed it was acting on behalf of the Norwegian owners of the Samho Jewelry and the 16,408 dwt Samho Heron.
But the firm was unable to give further details, including a breakdown on how much was owed in rent for each of the two tankers, saying it had received no instructions from its client to talk to the press.
Blank Rome seized the Samho Garnet because the ship is owned by Samho Shipping and can be sold to pay potential creditors rather than chartered by the company.
One legal insider said there had been no response from the Pusan-based shipowner since the ship was arrested. The ship is now one of three Samho vessels at ports around the world that are being held or are unable to move.
In Taiwan, the 3,382 dwt Samho Onyx has been detained at Mailiao, an industrial port north of Kaohsiung, by officials acting on behalf of the Environmental Protection Administration since February 25.
The ship was seized over unpaid fines of NT$64.6 million (HK$17.4 million) levied against Samho Shipping for pollution offences following a collision involving another Samho ship in October 2005.
In Dubai, the 300,482 dwt supertanker Samho Crown is waiting for repairs to be carried out after it was arrested by its crew over unpaid wages totalling US$142,000 earlier this year.
Contacted by telephone, one of the 28 crew onboard the Samho Crown confirmed that they had been paid salaries for February and March and that the April payment was due on Saturday.
But he added the ship was unable to move because all its safety certificates had expired and it was in need of repair. He said Samho Shipping had yet to make arrangements for the repairs to be carried out.
Crew on the Samho Garnet could not be contacted to see if they too were owed wages.
Ting Kam-yuen, head of the Hong Kong campaign office for the International Transport Workers' Federation, said the organisation had not been approached by the crew.
Representatives of Samho Shipping had not responded to e-mailed questions from the South China Morning Post by last night.
The number of pirates killed when the hijacked Samho Jewelry was retaken in a South Korean rescue operation: 8