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Accident date
Accident area
off the coast of Genoa
Spill area
Cause of spill
Quantity transported
144, 000 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
crude oil
Quantity spilled
144, 000 tonnes
Ship / structure type
Oil tanker
Built date
334 m
51 m

The accident

On 11 April, the Cypriot VLCC (very large crude carrier) the Haven, anchored off the coast of Genoa, was loaded with 144,000 tonnes of crude oil, when she caught fire, exploded and broke into three parts. One of the parts sank on the spot, the others sank during towing. Despite considerable pollution response operations at sea, oil slicks drifted westwards, thus hitting various parts of the Ligurian coast and then reaching the French Riviera as far as Hyeres. The Italian authorities decided to burn the majority of the oil at sea, while closely monitoring the effects on the environment.


Preliminary measures to protect the environment were taken. On 14 April, the slick was an estimated 12,000 m long and 4,000 m wide. Its drift was limited due to the lack of wind and a calm sea. Inspection of the wreck showed that the cargo needed to be pumped out because of the deteriorated state of the hull. Booms were rapidly deployed to protect the beaches from the arrival of compact slicks.

On 15 April, the French pollution contingency plan (Polmar plan) was activated. A study of the dynamics of the slicks showed a high rate of evaporation, but also the formation of tar patties. A surveillance network was set up to monitor the air, seawater, sediments, beaches, coasts and marine flora and fauna.

Recovery operations at sea and mechanical clean-up on the shoreline then began. Nearly 200 m³ of pollutant were collected at sea. In total, almost 110 km of coastline, rocks and beaches were cleaned up.


The immediate ecological consequences observed were the oiling of around 100 birds and the degradation of marine life in the surface layers and on the shore. In the longer term, it was essential to monitor the affected area so as to pick up on any potential deeper impacts on marine life which would only become apparent later.

The impact on fauna was significant. A 43% reduction in fish populations was estimated in certain fishing areas.

Compensation claims for damages to the environment

In autumn 1991, the Italian Government presented a compensation claim for 100 billion Lira (51.6 million Euros) to the IOPC Funds for damage to the marine environment. This claim was based on the 1982 national law on the environment, which allowed for the possibility of compensation for damages to the marine environment, both in terms of quantifiable and non-quantifiable elements. This claim was provisional, as the study of the ecological damages had not yet been completed. The documents provided did not specify the type of damages or the assessment method employed.

The Liguria region then raised the claimed amount to 200 billion Lira (103 million Euros), without further explanation, based on division of the sum amongst the various local areas which had been affected. Two regions and 14 towns also included claims for non-quantifiable environmental damages.

In comparison, the 1350 Italian claims for response operations, material damage and the pure economic loss totalled 310 billion Lira (160 million Euros), of which 261 billion (134 million Euros) came from the Government.

In December 1991, IOPC’s executive committee rejected the entirety of the claims for environmental damages, based on the civil liability convention (CLC 69) and the IOPC creation convention (IOPC 71). The committee’s position was based on the interpretation of these conventions due to the IOPC assembly's decision in 1980 (resolution n°3). The Italians contested this analysis, and deemed that the conventions did not explicitly exclude damage to the environment and that compensation should be controlled principally by the Italian law on the environment.

In addition, the Italian Government became involved in legal proceedings in summer 1991 before the court of Genoa, involving all the Italian claimants, against IOPC and the ship-owners. For many long years, the environmental claims, as with the other claims, constantly swung between being judicial and amicable, according to the series of decisions made by the Italian justice system.

In 1991, after having examined the exhibits, the judge asked the claimants to quantify their claims, putting the case on hold until the necessary documents were supplied. The Italian Government quantified its environmental claim in June 1994. The claim was raised to 883 billion Lira (456 million Euros) and was thus the main component of the totality of the claims. Furthermore, the Government’s claim included a number of elements for which no figures were provided, left to the discrepancy of the judge (e.g. erosion of beaches and irreparable damage to the sea and the atmosphere). As for the elements for which figures were provided, the main components were the damages repaired by natural biological reconstitution of resources (591 billion Lira, 305 million Euros) and the restoration of 43 hectares of underwater sea grass (266 billion Lira, 137 million Euros).

In June 1995, IOPC’s executive committee authorised the allocation of a total payment of 137.6 billion Lira (71 million Euros) to the Italian Government, including a 25 billion Lira (13 million Euro) voluntary payment from the ship-owner and insurer, which meant that no justification of quantifiable economic damages was necessary.

The judge’s position and the out of court settlement

In April 1996, the judge declared that the CLC 69 and IOPC 71 conventions did not exclude compensation for damage to the environment, and that only the Italian State was entitled to receive compensation for this type of damage. He deemed that damage to the environment could not be quantified economically and fixed the compensation for damages at a third of the clean-up costs, i.e. 40 billion Lira (20 million Euros).

IOPC, the ship-owner and the insurer were opposed to this position and maintained their offer of a fixed overall payment. In April 1998, the Italian Government accepted the offer on the condition that a specific law, called the “Haven Law”, be applied, which was promulgated in July 1998 and confirmed by the State Council in November. This law led to the signing, in March 1999, of an agreement between the Italian Government, the ship-owner, the ship’s insurer and IOPC, marking the end of proceedings.

 In the framework of this agreement, after the deduction of the amounts already paid, the Italian Government received a total of 117.6 billion Lira (60.7 million Euros), of which 70 billion (36 million Euros) came from the IOPC Funds and 47.6 (24 million Euros) from the insurer. According to the agreement, the amount paid by IOPC did not relate to the damages to the environment. The sum paid by the insurer included a “donation to the Italian State without admitting responsibility on behalf of one or other of the parties, and in as far as the payment exceeds the available limited amount established by the 1969 Convention on civil liability”. The agreement stated that all lawsuits taken before Italian courts must be abandoned.

Use of compensation and lessons to be learnt

Unlike the agreement, the “Haven Law” specified that part of compensation awarded must be used for environmental purposes, stating that “the remaining sum is intended for the environmental restoration of the maritime and coastal areas seriously affected by the negative consequences of the disaster. The work to be financed with this sum shall be defined based on a program established by the Minister for the Environment, in which the Liguria region, the townships and coastal communities of Arenzano and Albisola Marina shall participate”.

A tripartite convention was signed in July 2001 by the Minister for the Environment, the Liguria region and ICRAM (the Central Institute for Applied Marine Research). This convention transferred 1.6 billion Lira (826 thousand Euros) of the compensation to ICRAM to design the intervention program, and 32 billion Lira (16 million Euros) to the Liguria region to carry out the program. This program, designed in collaboration with a committee of experts (including the director of Cedre), involved quantifying the oil remaining in the wreck and its removal, mapping the rest of the partially burnt oil remaining on the seabed and the restoration of the seabed in these areas. It also included the study of the state of marine populations and the effect of previous operations. At the end of 2003, a public call for tenders for the quantification of the oil in the wreck and for the ecological follow-up of the wreck was issued and the roles allocated. The program was to be completed by 2006.

The Haven spill highlighted a number of basic questions on compensation of ecological damages in the IOPC system, thanks to the existence of a mechanism allowing for the possibility of compensation for this type of damage in Italian law. The position of the Italian Government was well supported by the judge in terms of the principle, although not in terms of quantification. The solution provided an answer to the case in question, although did not solve the problems in the framework of the IOPC system. IOPC retained their initial stance throughout, and did not plead civil liability.

This example therefore does not prove useful as a source of evolution for the IOPC system. It does however demonstrate the importance of a national legislation on the possibility of providing compensation for damage to the environment and highlights the need for a national juridical decision. The legislation acted as a basis for the Italian Government’s claim and for the allocation of part of the amicable settlement to environmental restoration. The position adopted by the judge on the interpretation of the CLC and IOPC conventions played an important part in the amicable negotiations with IOPC and the ship’s insurer. This case is also of interest in terms of the allocation of funds to a national scientific institute to design the plan of action and to the regional authorities to carry out the program.

Last update on 15/06/2011

See also

Cedre Information Day 2003, An environmental restoration programme 12 year after: The Haven wreck. Ezio Amato, ICRAM, Italy.

Cedre Information Day 2002, Impact and repair of a major black tide in the Mediterranean: the Haven incident in the Gulf of Genoa. Ezio Amato, ICRAM, Italy

External links

Poster de Météo France, Poster presented at "En route to GODAE", 13-15 june 2002, Biarritz, France

NOAA database (IncidentNews)

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