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1999 Erika disaster: French court may throw out Total spill ruling

French newspaper Liberation says Malta, under whose flag oil tanker was sailing, could have jurisdiction on criminal case.

Matthew Vella
6 April 2012, 12:00am
The oil spill, occurring some 400km off the Brittany coast, affected about 150,000 birds, of which 72,000 were killed.
France's top appeals court will probably rule that Total SA isn't criminally responsible for a 1999 oil spill because the Erika sank in international waters and wasn't a French-flagged tanker, French newspaper Liberation reported, citing legal advice to the court from the advocate general.

France's highest court may annul the verdict against oil giant Total, when the public prosecutor will recommend the annulment to the Cour de Cassation on the grounds that the tanker at the origin of the spill did not sink in French waters,

Total was condemned to pay clean-up costs, civil damages, and criminal fines in a 2008 judgment, a decision upheld by a lower appeals court in 2010.

But if the court follows the advocate general's advice, only Malta, under whose flag the Erika was sailing, would have jurisdiction in the case, Liberation said.

The ruling by the Cour de Cassation is due May 24.

A Parisian court found French Oil Company Total and Italian shipping classification society RINA guilty of the 20,000-tonne oil spill that resulted from the wreck of Malta-registered tanker Erika in 1999.

In 2008, Total SA, ship-owner Giuseppe Savarese, handler Antonio Pollara and Rina were sentenced to pay €375,000 for maritime pollution and a compensation of almost €200 million, paid to the various parties affected by the oil disaster.

The judgement, while recognising the risks inherent to oceangoing vessels, reckons Total SA was "guilty of imprudence" from the fact that Total SA did not take into account "the age of the ship", nearly 25 years, and "the discontinuity of its technical handling and maintenance".

On March 30, 2010, Total SA lost their appeal to overturn the court's decision.

The incident, occurring some 400km off the Brittany coast, affected about 150,000 birds, of which 72,000 were killed. In fact LPO, the French partner of BirdLife Malta, received the largest share of the compensation.

A group of experts who looked into the affair reported in 2005 that Erika had areas of corrosion at the base of its tanks, which should have prevented the ship from being certified seaworthy. They also said that certain repairs to the ship had not been carried out, although its papers claimed that they had been. The experts called the storm a contributing factor to the ship sinking, but not the only cause.

Matthew Vella is editor and MaltaToday on Sunday.

He joined Mediat...
Karl Consiglio
Impressive photograph
Kull meta nara dak ir-ritratt tal-Erika, niftakar fil-gvern ta' GonziPN. Tghid ghaliex?