A French appeals court has upheld key elements of a verdict against energy giant Total for a disastrous oil spill off the West coast of France 11 years ago.
In 2008 the French firm was found guilty for its part in the sinking of the ship Erika, it had chartered, in 1999. But it appealed, arguing liability lay with the vessel’s Italian owners who had given the Erika the all clear.
After the hearing, Corinne Lepage, the lawyer representing towns hit by the spill, gave a mixed response.
‘‘Of course it’s a great moral victory because the court recognised Total’s criminal responsibility and the ecological damage. But it’s also a great disappointment because Total won’t have to pay. It means the charterer is responsible in criminal but not civil terms. This means that when an oil company wants to use a rust-bucket they’ll be facing small criminal responsibility but it won’t cost them anything and is very worrying for the future.’‘
But, the court ruled Total could not reclaim compensation already paid, meaning it will not be able to get back the near 200 million euros it was ordered to pay in 2008.
The cost to Brittany’s coastline was arguably much worse, however, with thousands of birds and other marine life dying in the disaster.