1999 tanker sinking a "Total" disaster for France

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1999 tanker sinking a "Total" disaster for France

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Environmental groups, including Greenpeace, have welcomed today’s landmark court ruling that the French oil giant Total is to blame for one of Europe’s worst ever environmental disasters.

The oil tanker Erika sank in the Bay of Biscay off Brittany in December 1999, releasing more than 20,000 tonnes of crude into the sea.

Her crew was saved, but her cargo would pollute the coast for years. The Erika was registered in Malta, and had been chartered by Total.

The court in Paris decided that Total should be fined 375,000 euros, and must pay a share of nearly 200 million euros in damages.

The Italian maritime certification company which had declared the Erika seaworthy, and the ship’s owner and manager, were also found guilty.

The Erika was carrying heavy fuel oil, the most polluting and the most difficult to clean up.

400 kms of beaches and shoreline were fouled; local industries including fishing, salt production and tourism were crippled, and tens of thousands of sea birds died. Two unique species were wiped out.

All the defendants denied any wrongdoing, and Total, at least, is expected to appeal.

The company insisted it had chartered the tanker in good faith, and had already paid millions to help the clean-up operation.