French court upholds Total liability in Erika oil spill

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Mar. 31 -- A judgment handed down Mar. 31 by the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed that Total SA “had been imprudent” in implementing its vessel-vetting process for the Erika tanker, which spilled oil in December 2009 that damaged 400 km of Brittany’s coast. The court ordered Total to pay a €375,000 fine.

The court decided, however, that Total could not be held responsible on civil grounds for deliberately taking the risk of chartering the vessel and was found not liable under international conventions.

In what was considered a first, the court also confirmed and broadened the meaning of “ecological damage”—a notion hailed by Energy and Ecological Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and many environmentalist organizations. Following the Erika spill, the European Union imposed new marine safety rules including the enforced use of double-hulled tankers.

Total pointed out that following the Paris Criminal Court's Jan. 16, 2008, decision, it had (without admitting liability) paid €171.5 million in full as final settlement to the civil plaintiffs. It also spent more than €200 million to clean up the coast, pump the cargo remaining in the Erika wreck, and treat the remaining waste.

The group is now considering whether or not to take the case to the Cour de Cassation, the French Supreme Court of Appeal.

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