Appeal court cuts sentences for deadly ship crash

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am


Two seamen involved in one of Hong Kong's deadliest maritime accidents had their jail sentences reduced by the Court of Appeal yesterday.

Eighteen seamen on board the oil rig supply ship Neftegaz-67 died when it capsized and sank after it collided with the larger dry cargo bulk carrier Yao Hai near the Brothers Islands off Lantau on March 22, 2008.

Yuriy Kulemesin, the Ukrainian captain of the Neftegaz-67, had his jail sentence on charges related to endangering life at sea cut to 18 months from three years and two months.

Marine pilot, Tang Dock-wah, who was in charge of navigating the Yao Hai, walked free after his three-year sentence was slashed to the time he had already spent in jail, which was about a month.

Appeal court vice-president Mr Justice Frank Stock said reasons for the reductions would be given later.

In mitigation, James McGowan SC, for Kulemesin, said the Ukrainian thought he was navigating in open water with the right of way to maintain course and speed. McGowan said Kulemesin maintained course and speed for 'too long and will live with the consequences of that for the rest of his life'.

Stock, sitting with Mr Justice Michael Lunn and Mr Justice Darryl Saw, also allowed Kulemesin bail and lifted his travel restrictions after agreeing both his and Tang's convictions could be referred to the Court of Final Appeal. Stock agreed there were points of great and general importance which should be considered by Hong Kong's highest appeal court.

This was a reference to the submission by defence counsel that trial judge Madam Justice Susana D'Almada Remedios had erred in her construction and interpretation of six areas in section 72 of the shipping and port control ordinance. This included proof that the four people charged over the collision, including Kulemesin and Tang, knew what they were doing was wrong.

McGowan, for Kulemesin, said it was not unusual for the Court of Final Appeal to take an opposing view to lower courts' decisions. If this was true in the Neftegaz-Yao Hai case 'it seems the whole basis for the prosecution was incorrect'.

Allowing bail, Stock said: 'The chances of the appeal being heard [before Kulemesin had served his reduced sentence] is zero'. He had already spent about six weeks in jail. Cutting the term to 18 months meant a further 10 1/2 months in prison.