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ITF: Coral Sea verdict was fatally flawed

25 July 2008. For immediate release

ITF: Coral Sea verdict was fatally flawed

Speaking from Piraeus, where he has applied for access to Captain Laptalo, master of the Coral Sea, ITF Maritime Coordinator Steve Cotton today confirmed that an appeal against the verdict that imprisoned him has already been lodged, that this is likely to take several months, and that the manner of the trial has caused real concern among Greek legal observers.

Steve Cotton reported: “What I’m hearing here backs up the opinion of our observers that the way the trial was conducted was fatally flawed. It was rushed, it was wholly lacking in any hard evidence, and it relied in the end on an argument – that the master is guilty because even though he perhaps didn’t know about the drugs he probably should have – that has no precedent in the Greek Code of Penal Procedure.”

Cotton also spoke today with Andreas C Nassikas, the Attorney acting on behalf of the Coral Sea’s shipowner, who stated: “An appeal has already been lodged to clear the master of any wrongdoing, and I hope that the history of fairness traditionally shown by the Greek judiciary will see his name cleared.”

Cotton added: “This is about more than one master. It is about the maritime industry’s ability to defend the very people that ensure that maritime trade continues. If allowed to stand last week’s court decision would be the end of the fast, efficient service on which the world depends, since it would require all captains to check every fruit pallet and every container.

“The ITF acknowledges the efforts of the ship’s owner to defend the Captain and his colleagues, two of whom were cleared – even though obstacles seem to be being put in the way of their leaving the country. We want more action to protect innocent seafarers. If we as an industry cannot get this situation under control then the current crew shortage will turn into a famine.”

Predrag Brazzoduro, ITF Coordinator for Croatia, said of the trial: “The main prosecution witness, the Harbour Master, gave the answer ‘I don’t know’ so many times that I’ve learned the Greek word for this. In the end his statement was so much in favour of the three seafarers that the Prosecutor asked him ‘Why we have put them in jail?’ His answer was that he didn’t know! Meanwhile witnesses for the defence were stopped in the middle of their speeches, including the investigator who found (in cooperation with the Ecuadorian Police) the people who put the drugs in the banana boxes. He tried to say what he had found and was sent from the witness bench by the Judge. Witnesses like Captain Lickot, who was involved in deciding which part of the cargo was to be discharged, were not even heard.

“At the end of the trial the Judge gathered his papers and walked out before the last defence lawyer had finished his closing speech. It was no surprise that a Greek colleague sitting next to me said ‘Oh God, what will people think of us?’. A Dutch Captain shouted out ‘Shame on you Greek judges’, while the wife of Captain Laptalo was just asking: ‘Why are you doing this to us? What have we done? We were honest people for all our life, why do you do this to us?’”


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