Two lose appeal over ship collision

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2011, 12:00am


The Ukrainian captain and a local pilot involved in one of Hong Kong's worst maritime disasters had their appeals against conviction for endangering life at sea dismissed yesterday by the Court of Appeal. Two others - a mainland ship captain and a second local pilot - had their convictions quashed.

Yuriy Kulemesin and Tang Dock-wah were bailed to appear on December 21, when appeals against their sentences will be heard.

Appeal court vice-president Mr Justice Frank Stock gave no indication whether the original sentences would remain or be changed. Kulemesin, who was in charge of the oil rig supply ship Neftegaz-67 when it was hit by the dry-cargo ship Yao Hai near the Brothers islands on March 22, 2008, was jailed for three years and two months at the trial of all four in January last year. Tang, who was the senior pilot on board the Yao Hai, was sentenced to three years in jail.

Eighteen of the 25 crew on board the 2,723 gross tonne supply ship died after the vessel sank when it was holed below the waterline by the 36,544 tonne Yao Hai. It was the largest loss of life in Hong Kong waters since 1971, when 88 people were killed when the Hong Kong-Macau ferry Fat Shan sank during a typhoon.

Explaining the rejection of the men's appeals against conviction, Mr Justice Michael Lunn said neither had kept a proper look-out to prevent a collision between their ships.

In a 211-page judgment, the court said: 'Given the failure of the Neftegaz-67 to take any steps whatsoever, save when it was too late, to avoid the course of the Yao Hai ... one has to wonder whether the account given by the first applicant [Kulemesin] as to what he saw and did was a true account, and whether he was keeping a look (sic) at all.'

Lunn, with Stock and Mr Justice Darryl Saw, also rejected the argument put forward by Kulemesin's defence that he thought the area was open water rather than a narrow channel in which different navigation rules apply.

Lunn said the trial judge, Madam Justice Susana D'Almada Remedios, was entitled to find Kulemesin's belief that it was not a narrow channel 'unreasonable, and that he had not taken reasonable precautions'. This was despite the Marine Department never designating the area as a narrow channel.

Turning to Tang, Lunn said the pilot 'did not respond effectively and timeously, by the use of sound or light signals or alterations of course, to the unexpected failure of the Neftegaz-67 to change course. The risk of collision was obvious. The collision avoidance action taken by the third applicant [Tang] on the Yao Hai was indeed 'too little, too late''.

The appeal court judges ruled that the mainland captain of the Yao Hai, Liu Bo, and second pilot Bruce Chun Wah-tak, who were both jailed for two years and four months, were not criminally culpable and quashed their convictions.

Ting Kam-yuen, head of the Hong Kong campaign office for the International Transport Workers' Federation, would not comment on the judgments after leaving yesterday's hearing, but said he would inform his Ukrainian counterparts of the decision. He said there were lengthy civil liability cases pending after the criminal case was over.