The captain of an oil tanker – The Prestige – which caused Spain’s worst environmental disaster 11 years ago has been cleared of all criminal charges. Chief engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and the then head of the Spanish merchant navy Jose Luis Lopez have also been acquitted.
But the captain – Apostolos Mangouras – was sentenced to nine months in prison for refusing a tow when the 26-year-old ship got into trouble on its way from Lithuania to Gibraltar.
“There is no concrete evidence that would allow us to establish without doubt the causes of this extraordinary, sudden and irreparable damage which the ship suffered near the Galician coast. At this time it is clear just that the state and maintenance of the vessel were deficient and as such it could not withstand the elements in the heavy storm,” explained Chief Justice Juan Luis Pia.
The court said the leak was caused by deficient maintenance which the crew did not know about.
It is unlikely the captain, who had been charged with harming the environment, will serve the nine months due to the time he was held in custody on remand.
He blamed the oil spill on the Spanish authorities who ordered the ship out to sea after it sent out a distress call because of a crack in its hull. It was then refused permission to dock by Spanish, Portuguese and French authorities. It eventually split into two and sank.
Sixty seven thousand tons of oil from the Greek operated, Bahamas-flagged tanker affected more than 1,700 kilometres of coastline from Portugal to France causing serious damage to wildlife and livelihoods after it sank in November 2002.
The civil liability in the case remains to be decided.