Oil spill: French Oil Giant Total Convicted
28 September, 2012
The Court of Cassation , France 's highest appeal court, on Tuesday upheld French energy giant Total's conviction for negligence arising from the 1999 shipwreck of the oil-tanker Erika.
Robert Myles' report “Erika Oil Disaster — France 's top court upholds Total conviction”  on September 27, 2012 informs:
The oil spill following the sinking of the Erika in international waters off the west coast of France caused an unprecedented environmental disaster along large sections of France 's Atlantic seaboard.
Total had previously been found guilty of failing to address maintenance problems when it chartered the Erika, an aging 25-year-old tanker, which turned out to be a rust-bucket. On December 12, 1999, during a storm in the Bay of Biscay, the Erika foundered and broke its back before sinking 75 kilometers off Brittany in north-west France .
var imgid = "126501"; As a result about 30,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil leeched into stormy seas before being washed up along 400 kilometers of coastline in southern Brittany, the estuary of France's greatest river, the river Loire and along France's Vendée coast, all prime tourist areas. Tens of thousands of seabirds perished while some of the best beaches in France were deserted. The economic impact of the oil spill was not restricted to tourism as fishing, a mainstay of the local economy, was halted and the consumption of shellfish from the affected areas banned. In some areas, it took years for the local economy to recover.
A legal battle culminated in 2010, when a Paris based appeals court ordered Total to pay a fine of €375,000 (about $485,000) and awarded compensation totaling €200 million (almost $260 million) to a number of civil plaintiffs, including the French state, local business co-operatives and numerous French communes affected by the oil spill.
In 2008, when the case first came before the French courts, Total, Italian certification authority RINA, which found the ship to be seaworthy, the Erika's owner Giuseppe Savarese and the ship's handler Antonio Pollara were all convicted. The judgment, while recognizing the risks inherent with oceangoing vessels, considered Total was "guilty of imprudence," failing to take into account "the age of the ship", and "the discontinuity of its technical handling and maintenance."
Total had sought to argue that since the ship had foundered in International Waters, the French courts had no jurisdiction. (Although the ship went down in International Waters, it sank within France 's Exclusive Economic Zone.)
The Erika case was instrumental in bringing about new EU legislation regulating the transport of goods and commodities by sea and also helped establish the principle of ‘polluter pays'.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Corinne Lepage is reported by Euronews as saying, “This is a great day for all defenders of the environment. Because the Court of Cassation upheld the jurisdiction of the French court. It also confirmed the ecological damage. It found that Total committed the offence of recklessness and will have to repair the civil damage.” Bruno Retailleau, leader of the Council for Vendée region, one of the areas worst affected by the Erika disaster said the ruling demonstrated, "the sea is not a lawless place, it is not a place of impunity."
 Digital Journal , http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/333666
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