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Paris appeals court upholds Total conviction for 1999 'Erika' oil spill

Video by Philip CROWTHER

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-30

The Paris court of appeals on Tuesday confirmed the conviction and fine of 375,000 euros imposed on Total in a 2008 ruling that found the oil giant guilty of negligence for a 1999 oil spill off the coast of Brittany.

AFP - French oil giant Total on Tuesday lost a bid to overturn a Paris court decision finding it guilty of negligence over a 1999 shipwreck and oil spill off the coast of Brittany.
   
The Paris appeals court confirmed the conviction and a fine of 375,000 euros (500,000 dollars) that was imposed on Total in the 2008 ruling.
   
Total was found guilty of failing to take into account the age of the tanker Erika and of ignoring maintenance problems when it chartered the rusty 25-year-old vessel.
   
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.
   
The Paris criminal court had also ordered Total and three other parties in its initial ruling in 2008 to pay 192 million euros in compensation to civil plaintiffs in the case.
   
The appeals tribunal confirmed the lower court ruling that the owner and manager of the tanker -- along with the Italian RINA certification firm that found the tanker to be seaworthy -- were also at fault.
   
The ruling in one of France's worst environmental disasters established a legal precedent by recognising that polluters can be held accountable for harming the environment.
   
French beach resorts were deserted, fishing was halted and shellfish banned from consumption in the aftermath of the oil spill, leaving the local economy on its knees for years.
   
Presiding judge Joseph Valantin said that Total had "committed an error of negligence that is linked to the sinking" of the Erika.
   
Valentin said the Erika went down as a "direct consequence of the serious rust corrosion" and that this was caused by "insufficient maintenance of the ship."
 

Date created : 2010-03-30

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