They spent 540 days in captivity in a foreign country, charged with causing one of the worst environmental disasters there.
But on Thursday, the South Korean Supreme Court acquitted the two Indian sailors — Captain Jaspreet Chawla and his Chief Officer Shyam Chetan. They will return to India on Saturday, a National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) official said.
The collision had led to one of South Korea’s worst ever oil spills. Chawla, from Dehradun, and Chetan, from Goa, were charged with negligence and causing marine pollution.
A district court sentenced Chawla to 18 months in prison and fined him Won20 million, holding him responsible since he was captain.
Chetan was sentenced to eight months in jail and fined Won10 million, with the court saying he should have been more vigilant.
The two officer’s families then moved the country’s Supreme Court, which in April finally ordered a retrial.
“After a long-drawn battle with authorities, Chawla and Chetan will be united with their families,” NUSI general secretary Abdulghani Serang said.
Chetan’s father Comodere D.R. Syam said: “The family is really happy and waiting for the Chetan to return. He called us up as soon as the judgement was passed. His mother is going to prepare all his favourite dishes.”
The Ministry of External Affairs, in a release, said: “The Government of India welcomes the verdict, which once again vindicates the position of the two Indian seafarers that there was no criminal negligence on their part in the accident involving their ship...”
A freak accident had led to the spill — a towline of a crane on the barge snapped in stormy weather and collided with the Hebei Spirit, which spilt 10,800 tonnes of oil in De John Port in Korea. The oil reached the shores of Tean county, a fishing coastline, causing two indirect deaths, and affecting flora and fauna and the fishing business.