Owners held accountable in French oil spill

A French court ruled that Total oil, the cargo owner in a 1999 oil spill that polluted 400km of coastline, is partially responsible for damages to the environment. The court faulted Total for “carelessness” in leasing the 23-year-old Maltese-registered vessel Erika, which had sailed under eight names and numerous owners. Despite the ship’s certification, the tanker bore “suspect shadowy zones of substantial corrosion,” the court said.

Also convicted were Italian company Registro Italiano Navale, which inspected the vessel; the ship’s Italian owner, Giuseppe Savarese; and Antonio Pollara, head of Italian company Panship, which was operating the vessel. Greenpeace is one of the plaintiffs and awardees of the $555,000 settlement.

This is a landmark case because owners of cargo are not usually held accountable. In today’s world of international shipping, the ship can be flagged under one country, but owned by a foreign company, and carrying cargo by another. The recent ruling should send a message that shippers will need to take responsibility for the condition of the vessels they employ.

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2 Replies to “Owners held accountable in French oil spill”

  1. That’s all well and good… until you put this into perspective:

    1) It took nine (9) years for Total (the French petroleum giant) to be condemned.
    2) It’s going to appeal this ruling.
    3) Depending on the source, it has to pay around 190-192 million Euros in total.
    4) Total made profits of 12 billion Euros in 2006, and expects even better numbers for 2007.

    In other words, it makes 60 times in profits (that’s profits, not sales!!) what it is supposed to pay.

    Something tells me it will, eventually, pay up. After maybe another 9-10 years of legal procedures, or more. By this time, it will have made another 100 billion Euros in profits. So, sure, it’s nice. But I don’t think it will help the communities that have been devastated by the oil spill.

  2. In other words, it makes 60 times in profits (that’s profits, not sales!!) what it is supposed to pay.


    How are Total’s profits in any way related to how much they should pay? Shouldn’t they pay only for their liability in this particular incident. If you leased an automobile that the automobile certification society had certified as ship-shape, and then the operators of your leased car that you hired had an accident that was no fault of yours, how much do you think you should pay?

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