Chinese: ‘Not guilty’ of oil spill

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The two top officers on board a Chinese bulker that ran aground off Norway’s southern coast last summer both entered pleas of “not guilty” when their trial got underway on Monday. Their ship’s grounding resulted in Norway’s worst oil spill ever.

The Chinese bulker "Full City" grounded in a storm off the Telemark coast on July 31, 2009. PHOTO: Kystverket

Both the captain of the vessel, called Full City, and his first mate on duty at the time of the grounding are charged with violating Norwegian anti-pollution and maritime safety laws.

Oil from the Full City continues to soil the scenic coastline of Telemark, which is home to bird sanctuaries, many small boat harbors and holiday cabins, along with popular beaches and coastal recreation areas.

Massive containment and clear-up efforts were launched after the grounding, but the oil spread rapidly from the vessel’s rocky perch south to Grimstad and Kristiansand. Environmental officials had expected much of the remaining oil to disappear during the course of the winter, but it’s still fouling the rocks and waters around Langesund.

“We had hoped for more wind and storms and current during the winter, but that didn’t happen,” Silje Berger of the coastal protection agency Kystverket told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. That means new clean-up efforts are necessary, adding to the costs estimated at NOK 250 million already.

The Panama-registered, Chinese-controlled Full City had sailed into Norwegian waters and was waiting to pick up a load of saltpeter at Herøya when it grounded in a storm at Såstein, at the mouth of the Langesund Fjord. The vessel, fully loaded with heavy bunker fuel, sent out a distress signal but didn’t manage to sail back out to sea and away from the rocks soon enough.

The damaged vessel was finally pulled off the rocks a few weeks later and was towed out of Norway in September.

The captain and first officer were held in custody for four months after the grounding, but later permitted to travel back to China. They contended in court on Monday that they acted in accordance with international regulations after the grounding occurred.

Their trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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