SPAIN

Spanish court acquits accused in Prestige oil spill

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A Spanish court on Wednesday acquitted the three men facing trial in connection with the 2002 Prestige oil tanker disaster, which flooded the coasts of Spain, Portugal and France with 50,000 tonnes of oil.

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A Spanish court on Wednesday acquitted the three men facing trial in connection with the Prestige oil tanker disaster, which flooded the coasts of Spain, Portugal and France with 77,000 metric tonnes of oil in November 2002.

Judge Juan Luis Pia said that the court found no criminal responsibility in the sinking and absolved the three defendants of crimes against the environment.

The accused – Apostolos Mangouras, his Greek chief engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and the head of the Spanish merchant navy at the time, Jose Luis Lopez-Sors – are all aged over 70.

The 26-year-old Prestige ran into problems during a storm but was nevertheless ordered out to sea and sank days later. It spewed most of its 77,000 metric tons (20.5 million gallons or 77.6 million liters) of fuel oil, unleashing an ecological disaster in one of the world’s richest fishing grounds.

Plaintiffs had called for prison sentences of between five and 12 years for the accused. Prosecutors were also seeking €4.3 billion ($5.8 billion) in damages overall.

A co-defendant, the ship's second officer Ireneo Maloto of the Philippines, remains on the run.

The high court of La Coruna, in the northwestern Galicia region, heard eight months of testimony from more than 200 experts and witnesses in the trial that opened in October 2012.

Mangouras blamed the spill on the Spanish authorities that ordered the Bahama-flagged Liberian tanker out to sea after it sent out a distress call due to a crack in its hull.

Mangouras, along with lawyers representing Mare Shipping, the company that ran the Prestige, said the order caused it to break up in a storm and spill its load over six days adrift.

"The ship was cracked and they sent it out into the ocean," Mangouras told the court in November. "It was the worst alternative. They sent us in a floating coffin... to drown."

Lopez-Sors said he had ordered the ship away from shore to lessen the environmental damage from the spill.

That decision did not spare 1,700 kilometres (1,050 miles) of coastline, which were blanketed with black slime, prompting 300,000 volunteers to come out to clean the beaches.

Maria Jose Rodriguez Docampo, the lawyer for Mare Shipping, told the trial that heading out to sea was "suicidal" and "worsened the structural damage" to the Prestige.

Spain's current conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was deputy premier at the time and initially downplayed the gravity of the accident.

He repeatedly described the black spots that appeared in the sea where the tanker went down as "small threads of clay".

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

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