Victory for biodiversity as oil company gets fined over Erika oil spill
On 16 January, the French oil company Total and the Italian shipping classification society RINA were fined by a Parisian court over their involvement in the huge oil spill that resulted from the sinking of the tanker Erika off the coast of France. The Erika was a 24 year old rusting, Maltese-registered vessel that broke in two during a storm in 1999. The ship leaked 20,000 tonnes of oil in the sea and affected up to 400 km of the Brittany coast.
The oil disaster affected about 150,000 birds and killed 72,000 of them, mainly Common Guillemots Uria aalge, Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica, Northern Gannets Morus bassanus and Black-legged Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla.
"This is a historical situation as it is the first time that a French court recognizes the existence of ecological damage resulting from an attack on the environment. LPO hopes this precedent will be used in future court cases and will inspire companies to have more respect for nature and biodiversity" —Allain Bougrain Dubourg, President of LPO
The court imposed the maximum fine on Total and RINA of €375,000 for maritime pollution, and almost €200 million of compensation, paid to various civil parties that were involved in the oil disaster, of which LPO, the French BirdLife partner will receive the largest amount.
A group of experts who looked into the affair reported in 2005 that the Erika had areas of corrosion at the base of its tanks, which should have prevented the ship from being certified seaworthy. They also said that certain repairs to the ship had not been carried out, although its papers claimed that they had been. The experts called the storm a contributing factor to the ship’s sinking, but not the only cause.
Credits: LPO, Birdwatch