The legal framework
The activation of the Polmar Plan authorises financial cover for the expenses incurred by the regional orgnaisations and the exceptional expenses for the State services through a specific fund, known as the Polmar Fund. On 8 February, the State provided 2 million French francs (305,000 euros) for Finistère. The expenses incurred were significant, in particular for the coastal and portal clean-up operations and repairs to damaged access roads. Benefits had to be paid to fishermen, aquaculturists, seaweed collectors and tourism personnel, until their economic losses could be evaluated and they could be given compensation.
In conjunction with operational conventions, it was the shipowner's responsibility to provide compensation for all the vicitims, through the insurance excess, then through his mutual insurer, his Standard Protection and Indemnity Club (standard P&I), up to a certain limit determined by the tonnage of the ship. As a payment guarantee, the Club chose to deposit the sum at Brest's High Court of Justice. This sum was the "limitation fund", an envelope containing 13.86 million francs (2,113,000 euros), to be shared between all the workers and organisations. The FIPOL, an intergovermental organisation created in 1978 as part of the Internation Maritime Organisation, completed the sum up to a second limit determined by the tonnage of the ship.
The French State did not submit its compensation claim until almost two years later. Estimations of the clean-up costs, the loss of amenities, losses in terms of tourism, and damage to natural resources proved to be long and difficult. The overall sum claimed by the Government was first estimated at 22.255 million francs (3,393,000 euros), then later modified to 20.960 francs (3,195,000 euros). Claims were registered from 25 towns in the Côtes d’Armor region, and 15 towns in the Calvados region, totaling 1.276 million francs (194,500 euros). Five French fishermen and a private organisation responsible for oiled bird clean-up operations registered compensation claims to the tune of 300,000 francs (46,000 euros). In total, the claims came to more than 22.5 million francs (3,430,000 euros). The Jersey and Guernsey authorities added their £24,776 (35,588 euros) to the list, for clean-up costs.
Each compensation claim was studied by Standard Club and FIPOL experts. The insurer, and then the compensation fund, accepted the amounts after subtracting any elements of the claim deemed excessive, including interest where necessary.
From 1988 to 1992, the regions and villages received 1.09 million francs (166,000 euros) including interest, and the fishermen and the bird clean-up association 197,000 francs (30,000 euros). The French Government's claim was accepted for the sum of 17.15 million francs (2,615,000 euros), 83 % of the total claimed. In November 1992, they received, with interest, the sum of 18.755 million francs (2,860,000 euros).
As the pollution was the result of an error, FIPOL and the French State decided to sue the parties potentially at fault. Experts were chosen by the Commercial Court of Anvers, the French State, FIPOL and the villages. They inspected the ship and the ship's papers. Indications of negligence were recorded against the shipowner and the cargo owner.
A right of action was filed by the FIPOL administrator and the French Government. Cherbourg's court assessed the exact responsabilities of each party. It was established that the disaster was the result of the personal fault of the Amazzone's owner. The shipowner pleaded guilty to having insufficiently maintained the Butterworth cover system, the origin of the disaster.
The French State claimed 20,960,056 francs (3,195,000 euros) plus interest, as when proceedings began compensation by FIPOL had not yet been settled. They withdrew their claim in November 1991 when the compensation from FIPOL had been paid. FIPOL continued proceedings, in a bid to be reimbursed for the expenses incurred or still to be incurred.
The legal proceedings finished in June 1992. After three months of negotiations, an out of court agreement was signed. FIPOL received 4.5 million francs (686,000 euros) from the shipowner, the charterer and their insurers.