Company Knew Tanker was Risk Before Erika Disaster

Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The French oil company Total and 14 other defendants were accused yesterday of criminal responsibility for one of Europe's most calamitous oil spills, the wreck of the Erika, according to Independent Online

The four-month trial - the most complex of its kind in French history - may also turn into a trial of the globalized international shipping system. The aging and rusting ship, which split in two off off Britanny, on December 12, 1999, was Japanese-built, Italian-owned and controlled by two Liberian companies. The Erika was crewed by Indians, sailing under a Maltese flag, chartered by a shipping company registered in the Bahamas for a French oil company.

The tribunal in Paris was told that the ship had already been identified as a potential risk. It was nonetheless allowed to leave Dunkirk in high seas, carrying a cargo of 20,000 tonnes of toxic heavy fuel oil. The ship foundered three days later. A series of hurricane-force gales struck the Atlantic seaboard two weeks after the disaster, scattering solid blankets of oil up to a metre deep for 240 miles along the French coast from La Rochelle to the western tip of Brittany.

At least 150,000 seabirds were found dead on the coast. Up to 10 times as many were probably lost in the oil-blackened seas. Eight years on, after a huge effort, France's beaches have been cleaned. But the bird and marine life of the Bay of Biscay and Breton coasts may never fully recover.

The first day's hearing began with legal arguments over France's right to try the case. Several of the defendants argued that a French court has no jurisdiction because the Erika sank outside French territorial waters. The Erika disaster led EU governments to pass two sets of European laws, tightening maritime safety. In theory, such a disaster could not happen again. However, the report on the eight-year judicial investigation presented to the court yesterday said that the Erika should never have left port under the rules which applied in 1999. Those on trial include Total and two of its subsidiaries; an Italian shipping inspection company, Rina; the owner of the ship, Giuseppe Savarese; an official of an Italian management company, Antonio Pollara and the Indian captain of the Erika, Karun Mathur. They are charged with causing pollution and placing lives in danger. Four French officials responsible for maritime safety are accused of responding slowly or inadequately to the disaster. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Under maritime law, the responsibility of the ship's owners and the oil company is limited. The French state and lawyers for private parties will argue that this ceiling should be lifted because the companies ignored safety regulations and - in the case of Total - ignored its own internal rules. The judicial investigation, presented to the court, said that the 25 year-old ship had to be used intensively to pay off the loan with which it was purchased. Several warnings had been given in the previous two years about the Erika's severely corroded hull. Only limited repairs were made, with steel sheets that were too thin, the report by an investigating magistrate said. Source: Independent Online

Maritime Reporter September 2014 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

People & Company News

Singapore’s MPA Discuss LNG Bunkering

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), Antwerp Port Authority, Port of Rotterdam and Port of Zeebrugge participated in a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Key to Somalia's Recovery

Piracy, terrorism and criminal activities originating in Somalia can only be addressed by creating a climate of security, engagement and empowerment that will encourage home grown businesses,

Long Beach Port Honors OOCL Executive

Andrew Tung, CEO and Managing Director of Orient Overseas Container Line, was presented today with the prestigious “Port Pilot Award” by the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners.

Legal

ITIC Measures against Ebola

The International Transport Intermediaries Club (ITIC) has issued the following general advice related to the outbreak of Ebola. Vessels that have recently

ClassNK's Guidelines for Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems

Leading classification society ClassNK announced that it has released Guidelines for Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems. These guidelines cover class safety requirements

China, Vietnam Pledge Maritime Cooperation

China and Vietnam have agreed to "address and control" maritime disputes, state media said on Friday, as differences over the potentially energy-rich South China

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Maritime Standards Naval Architecture Port Authority Salvage Ship Electronics Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.1822 sec (5 req/sec)