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Convictions between the Erika and the Prestige

Convictions between 1999 and 2002.

After the Erika pollution, illicit discharge of oil off the French coasts was given particular attention in terms of legislation. The Le Bris law from 4th March 2001 reinforced the fines to apply in the case of polluting discharge caused by ships and stated that repression of this type of pollution was a priority amongst response means.

This generated a marked increase in the number of convictions since the beginning of 2002. Of course these incidents occurred mainly prior to this law, however the increase in fines is noticeable. The HYUNDAI CONTINENTAL was the first vessel to which the maximum fine of 150,000 € was given in March 2002. The new maximum thresholds of 600,000 €, then 1 million Euros were to lead to even more severe convictions in the future.

Despite the impossibility of following up on all the judgements pronounced, evaluation based on those we have documented shows a marked increase in the number of convictions pronounced in 2002.

 

1999: The Far East Victory

The facts:

The Far East Victory (Cargo boat, Hong Kong flag) was caught emptying its tanks off Le Touquet (Eastern Channel) on 22 January 1999 trailing in its wake a 13 mile long and 900 m wide oil slick.

The accepted motives and evidence:

The legal report indicates light pollution in the ship’s wake, filmed by helicopter. An assessment team was sent aboard to question the commanding officer who denied the facts. Furthermore, a number of photographs were taken from the Customs’ helicopter.

The court decision:

The Sri Lankan commanding officer, the ship owner and the company Crown Son Shipping were condemned by Paris' court to pay a 600,000 FF fine on 17 January 2001. This was the largest fine ever imposed for this kind of offence. Greenpeace obtained one Franc of the damages and the publication of the sentence in Lloyd's list maritime gazette.

 

2000: The Iron Gate

The facts:

The Iron Gate (Ore tanker, Panamanian flag) was caught emptying its tanks off the coast of Morbihan on 25 April 2000, trailing in its wake a 21 mile long and 400 m wide slick.

The accepted motives and evidence:

The legal report indicates a cease in pollution after the radio contact. 5 photos were taken. 48 hours later, when the vessel was passing through French territorial waters, inspectors came aboard and the commanding officer did not let them take a sample. They noticed the low level of oiled waters (4 m³ instead of the 25 m³ expected on a journey from India to Europe). Furthermore, the commanding officer indicated a false position to the Customs' plane and also repainted the engine room.

The court decision:

The Romanian commanding officer was condemned by Paris' court to pay a 300,000 FF fine (45,735 €) on 21 February 2001.

 

2001: The Stonegate

The facts:

The Stonegate (Bulk carrier, Panamanian flag) was caught draining hydrocarbon-charged waters off South Finistere on 25 February 2001.

The court decision:

The Bulgarian commanding officer was condemned by Paris' court to a 75,000 Euro fine on 28 January 2002. The judge based his decision on the article L218-24, ordering the two ship owners to contribute largely to the payment of the fine (80%). The quoted article authorises the court to take into account "the circumstances around the incident and in particular the working conditions of the person concerned".

The Stonegate
The Stonegate

 

2000: The Kestutis

The facts:

The Kestutis (Cargo boat, Lithuanian flag) was caught emptying its tanks off the headland of the Pointe du Raz on 21 February 2000, trailing in its wake an 8 mile long and 100 m wide slick.

The accepted motives and evidence:

The legal report indicates a cease in pollution after the radio contact. The court did not find the commanding officer’s explanations convincing and did not take into account the argument put forward by the defence based on the the absence of sampling and their plea to concentrate on “the facts formally reported by the agents commissioned for this purpose”.

The court decision:

On 21 June 2002, the Russian commanding officer was condemned by Paris' court to pay 90,000 € fine of which the sum of 80,000 € was the responsibility of the ship owner.

 

2000: The Great Century

The facts:

The Great Century (Grain carrier, Chinese flag) was caught emptying its tanks off the coast of Brittany on 24 November 2000, trailing in its wake a 30 km long and 100 m wide slick.

The accepted motives and evidence:

The legal report indicates a cease in pollution after the radio contact. Photographs were taken. The judge specified that “the reality of oil discharge is established by the observations made by the crew of the Customs plane, as stated in a legal report, and by the photographs attached to the report.

The court decision:

On 19 March 2001, the Bangladeshi commanding officer was condemned by Paris' court to pay a 100,000 € fine of which 80,000 € were to be paid by the ship owner. An environmental protection association, claiming damages, was awarded 1,500 Euros and the court ordered the decision to be published in two gazettes.

 

2000: The Hyundai Continental

The facts:

The Hyundai Continental (Cargo boat, Hong Kong flag) was caught emptying its tanks off the coasts of Charente-Maritime on 23 May 2000, trailing in its wake a 17 mile long and 100 m wide slick.

The accepted motives and evidence:

The legal report indicates a slick in the wake of the vessel, which was characteristic of hydrocarbons, and the fact that this ship was the only one in the area at that time.

The court decision:

The Korean commanding officer was condemned by Paris' court to pay a 150,000 € of which 120,000 € were to be paid by the ship owner. An environmental protection association, claiming damages, was given 1,500 Euros and the court ordered the decision to be published in two official gazettes.

 

2002: The Nada III

The facts:

TheNada III (Cargo boat, flag of St Vincent and the Grenadines) was located by a Customs’ plane on 4 March 2002 off the island l'Ile Vierge (Brittany) trailing in its wake a 62 km long and 150 m wide slick.

The accepted motives and evidence:

Regarding the observations made by Customs, the Nada III was rerouted to Calais harbour. A 46,000 Euro down payment was imposed and the vessel was also inspected at sea off Dunkirk. This inspection showed the absence of 8 tonnes of oily waste according to the register.

The court decision:

The Egyptian commanding officer was condemned by Brest court to pay a 75,000 € fine on 2 July 2002. A mixed association of communes associated to protect the coast was awarded 9,000 Euros for damages.

 

Comments on incidents from 2000 to 2002

Resorting to inspections onboard or in the arrival port became more common practice after the Erika accident. It provides complementary pieces of evidence like the out of service oily water separator in the New Zealand Pacific case judged on 2 April 2000. However, in the Indira Ghandi case judged in 2002, the log book was not considered as "a piece of written evidence which can contradict the observations noted in the report".

Despite consequent investments in new radar and infrared detection methods, these types of evidence were not accepted by judges until 2002 (except for thermography in the Diane Green case in 1998). It is to be hoped that the coming of new low light level cameras and other means of detection will be accepted for proceedings against night spilling.

Finally, although visits onboard are more frequent, the call for visits in other European harbours remains rare, as does the release of the cargo on bail (the Nada III case judged by Brest's high court in 2002).

The level of the fines for convictions increased after the Erika accident to reach the maximum amount of 150,000 € before the law increased this amount fourfold. No conviction exceeded 150,000 € for this period, although the law allowed fines to be as high as 600,000 €. Ship owners are responsible for the payment of between 50 and 90% of the fine. The intervention of associations claiming damages during judgements leads to a large amount of publicity about the cases.

Last update: 01/02/2007