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Wed, Aug 15, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Cabinet frees Greek crew

OIL SPILL In a decision lauded by human rights activists, two members of the ship `Amorgos' in detention since January were told yesterday they can now leave Taiwan


A decision by the Cabinet to lift a detention order for two crew members of the Greek-registered MV Amorgos was announced yesterday, ending their seven months in custody.

Captain Evangelos Lazardis and chief engineer Vasileios Sardis, expressed their gratitude through the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (台灣人權促進會).

"They said they felt happy upon hearing the news," Wu Jia-zhen (吳佳臻), the association's office coordinator, said yesterday.

Wu added that the association is also glad to see the happy ending.

The association filed a petition for the immediate release of the detainees on July 25, arguing that the detention was in violation of the crew members' human rights.

The two men were ordered not to leave Taiwan under the Marine Pollution Control Act after the Amorgos spilled roughly 1,150 tonnes of fuel oil into waters near Kenting National Park.

The worst oil spill in Taiwan since 1977, the incident polluted the coastal environment of Lungkeng Ecological Preserve (龍坑生態保護區) area of the park.

Some 60,000 tonnes of iron ore also sank into the sea after the wreckage was hit by several typhoons.

The detention of the two men was complicated by diplomatic pressure from Greek officials and the international community.

In response to that pressure and to the rights association's petition, Secretary-General of the Cabinet Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) convened a cross-agency meeting on the matter yesterday.

Officials from the ministries of foreign affairs, the transportation and communications, justice and the Environmental Protection Administration agreed to lift the detention order.

However, both the detainees and the Nissos Amorgos Shipping Corp, the owner of the wreck, were required to sign a letter of undertaking as a condition for the crewmen's release.

The letter ensures that they will assume responsibility under Taiwan's laws and offer assistance to the nation's judiciary.

After receiving the signed letter, the Cabinet yesterday sent official documents to both the Hualien Harbor Bureau and the Bureau of Immigration to lift the detention order.

The environmental administration officials said the Cabinet's decision was acceptable.

"Since the investigation on the detainees' criminal responsibility and maritime responsibility for the wreck is over, we don't need them to remain here," said Chang Juu-en (張祖恩), the administration's deputy administrator, at a press conference yesterday.

"They are now obligated to return here should Taiwan need them during a future investigation," Chang said.

Administration officials said that the letter signed by the two crew and the shipping company would be presented in an international tribunal in the future as evidence of their involvement in the oil spill.

The administration has authorized a Norwegian law firm to investigate the spill and will consider filing a lawsuit in Norway.

Administration officials, however, yesterday stressed that the compensation issue would be discussed continuously with both the shipping company and its insurance company.

They said that the shore cleanup costs and related personnel expenses had already reached NT$90 million.

"The total loss is still not known because we are still estimating the amount of loss to ecological and fishery resources," said Lin Chien-hui (林建輝), a senior specialist at the administration's Bureau of Water Quality Protection.

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