Activists Stage Erika Protest, TotalFina Mulls Oil Treatment Contract

Friday, April 07, 2000
Thousands of protesters from western France marched through Paris on April 1 to demand tighter shipping laws in the wake of the Erika oil tanker spill which devastated parts of their region. The march was called by action groups from western France along with local politicians and environmentalists. Police estimated 2,000 people attended.

TotalFina, which chartered the Erika, was targeted by protesters in two separate incidents before the march.

On the day of the protest, activists dumped sand and oil in front of what they believed was the home of TotalFina boss, Thierry Desmarest.

According to police, they left the scene upon realizing that they had the wrong address.

The previous night, a rack of gas bottles was set alight on the forecourt of a TotalFina petrol station in northern France. Local police said there was no serious damage.

The French government's handling of the Erika disaster and of shipping regulations in general were also in the firing line.

A recent report by a national consultative body, the Economic and Social Committee, underlined France's failure to learn from a similar disaster back in 1978, when the Amoco Cadiz tanker sank, leaking one million barrels of oil off the Brittany coast. "Despite its 5,000 km (3,125 miles) of coast, France does not have a maritime policy worthy of the name," the report's author Michel Muller said recently.

France's reaction after the Cadiz spill above all amounted to an "impressive seawall of paperwork", he said.

Jacqueline Taberly, widow of the French yachtsman Eric Taberly, who died at sea last year, criticized the government for having done nothing to prevent a repetition of the Cadiz spill.

From the front of the Paris march, she explained: "We cannot just stand idly by and watch the way it has been treated. For two centuries we have had no maritime policy." While the Amoco Cadiz, which sank further north, spilled far more oil, the slick from the Erika, which was carrying 25,000 tons, hit a longer stretch of coastline - some 250 miles.

In the wake of Erika, the government promised to push for stricter rules on shipping at European and international levels and has pledged to pay compensation, although it has been criticized for not moving swiftly enough on pay-outs.

TotalFina has meanwhile agreed with the government to pay for pumping out up to 10,000 tons of oil which still remain in Erika's holds. - (Reuters)

TotalFina To Decide On Erika Oil Treatment Contract Soon

TotalFinaElf officials said last week it expected to draw up in a few days a shortlist of companies for a contract to treat some 150,000 tons of waste fuel oil recovered from the sunken tanker Erika.

"In the coming days we will select a shortlist of some 10 companies who will take part in the call for tender," Chairman Thierry Desmarest told a news conference on the company's 1999 proforma results.

He said the contract was worth 200 million French francs ($29.19 million).

TotalFinaElf has pledged to allocate a total 700 million francs ($102.2 million) towards efforts to repair damage caused by the Erika disaster, which sparked the wrath of inhabitants of Western France and environmental movements.

Desmarest said treatment of the 150,000 tons of sand and oil, currently stored near two of the company's refineries, would take place during 2000 and 2001. He said the 12,000 to 15,000 tons of fuel oil still in the sunken ship's hull would be pumped out over the same period, under a 400-million-franc contract which has yet to be attributed.

TotalFinaElf said earlier this month it expected pumping to start in May or June and end four months later.

Desmarest said he expected that operations to clean up oil-sullied beaches would take two years. Restoring the ecological balance of the hundreds of miles of coast affected would take even longer, he said.

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