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Tanker sinking ruling a ‘scandal’

MEP attacks not-guilty verdict on 2002 disaster that saw oil slick that spread all the way from Portugal to Brittany

A FRENCH MEP has denounced as a “scandal” the acquittal of the three people held responsible for the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige and an oil slick which hit beaches from Brittany to Portugal.

Catherine Grèze was joined by representatives of resorts along the Aquitaine and Poitou-Charentes coastline who had all lodged complaints against the tanker’s captain, chief engineer and the then head of the Spanish merchant marine holding them criminally negligent in the 2002 disaster.

The Prestige broke up and sank 250km off north-west Spain in November 2002 after it spent six days out at sea after being refused permission to enter a safe haven.

The slick – which spread from Ouessant off Brittany to Porto in Portugal – was estimated to have caused €4billion in damage and the verdict could mean Spain cannot be held liable for the costs.

With the ruling at La Coruña in Spain coming 11 years to the day after the start of the drama, Ms Grèze said it was a “scandal” that the sinking was being commemorated with an acquittal rather than a guilty verdict.

She pointed out that the tanker “dumped 63,000 tonnes of oil which had ruined 2,000km of coastline” and cost billions just three years after the Erika disaster off Brittany.

Lawyers for 17 Landes communes plus Bidart, Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Pays Basques had joined the criminal action but Landes lawyer Me Renaud Lahitete said they still held hope that a linked civil claim would help them.

He told Sud-Ouest they were angry and shocked at the verdict but added that he thought it also held the Spanish authorities “responsible for taking a decision that could not lead to anything other than a sinking”. This gave hope in the civil claim.

Me Pierre Santi, for the Pays Basques communes, told the paper it was a “disastrous day for the environment” with a verdict that could only “encourage the use of such floating dustbins”. He also denounced the French government’s decision in 2006 to withdraw from launching its own prosecution.

Photo: Workers clean up oil on beaches in Spain, credit: flickr/StephaneMGrueso

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