Neftegaz-67 captain Yuriy Kulemesin loses tugboat collision appeal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:14am

Ukrainian ship captain Yuriy Kulemesin must serve his 18-month sentence on charges related to a deadly 2008 vessel collision, the Court of Final Appeal ruled yesterday.

The ruling upheld a Court of Appeal judgment, which held Kulemesin liable for the fatal accident that killed 18 people.

Judges cleared Tang Dock-wah, the chief pilot of the mainland vessel Yao Hai, and allowed his appeal against conviction.

Kulemesin was the master of the oil rig supply ship Neftegaz-67, which capsized and sank after colliding with bulk carrier Yao Hai off Lantau Island on March 22, 2008.

However, he had already served 45 days in jail, before being freed on bail pending appeal. Legal sources said, given the time already served and assuming he gets a third off for good behaviour, Kulemesin could be freed in time for Christmas.

Kulemesin was initially jailed for 38 months and Tang for 36 months, at the Court of First Instance in January 2010 on charges related to endangering life at sea.

But these sentences were reduced by the Court of Appeal in December 2011. Kulemesin's jail term was cut to 18 months and Tang's was slashed to the one month he had already served.

In yesterday's judgment, the Court of Final Appeal also upheld decisions by the lower courts that the stretch of water where the accident occurred was a narrow channel, not open water.

It was this uncertainty - over whether the accident site near the Brothers Islands was in the open sea or a narrow channel - that led the two crews to adopt different rules of navigation.

Kulemesin's defence team said the captain thought the 1,393 dwt (deadweight tonne) Neftegaz-67 was in open water and had the right of way. Those on board the much larger and fully loaded 69,497 dwt Yao Hai believed they were in a narrow channel, and therefore had precedence.

The Court of Final Appeal judgment could have vital ramifications if any of the crew involved in last year's ferry collision, between the Lamma IV and Sea Smooth, face criminal charges.

Legal experts said the Court of Final Appeal ruling had clarified what the prosecution must prove to secure a conviction under section 72 of the shipping and port control ordnance, which covers endangering the safety of others at sea. Those convicted of breaching section 72 face a maximum of four years in prison and a HK$200,000 fine. They can also be charged with manslaughter, which carries a maximum jail sentence of life imprisonment.