French court rules on Total in tanker spill case
French court found that French oil giant Total had shown recklessness in chartering a tanker which sank in 1999
PARIS, Jan 17, 2008 - A French court Wednesday found that French oil
giant Total had shown recklessness in chartering a tanker which sank in 1999
off the French coast, causing widespread pollution.
Judge Jean-Baptiste Parlos also ruled that the "blatant fault" of the owner
of the Erika, Giuseppe Savarese, and the ship's manager, Antonio Pollara,
caused the shipwreck.
Total failed to take into account the age of the ship and deficiencies in
its maintenance, while the two Italians must have known that repairs to the
25-year-old vessel had been skimped to cut costs, he said.
The Erika was carrying 30,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil when it broke in two
and sank off the Brittany coast on December 12, 1999, polluting a large
stretch of coastline and killing tens of thousands of seabirds.
Environmental groups, fishermen, local communities and hotel owners lodged
compensation claims totalling some one billion euros (1.5 billion dollars)
against Total and 14 other parties in the case.
The trial, on various charges of endangering lives, causing pollution or
failing to respond to a disaster, opened in February last year after a
seven-year investigation into the oil spill.
All 15 parties insisted they were innocent.
Total's lawyers had argued that the Erika had a "hidden, undetectable flaw"
in its hull and that it should not be held responsible for ensuring the
security of tankers it leases from another party.
The French state was seeking 153 million euros in damages to cover the cost
of the cleanup and recovery of the wreckage but the court had also to rule on
the compensation claims lodged by 101 plaintiffs.
The total cost of the damage from the Erika oil spill has been estimated at
more than one billion euros.