By the OGJ Online Staff
HOUSTON, Oct. 5 -- The Erika tanker spill in December 1999 occurred under a series of "major irregularities," said a maritime expert report requested by a Parisian judge.
The conclusion bodes ill for French company TotalFinaElf SA, which had chartered Erika. The spill affected 400 km of France's coastline. The regions affected are demanding 6 billion francs in damages.
The company refused to comment on the report.
Maritime experts said that the tanker's navigation authorizations were only good until Nov. 21, 1999. The report also said the change of charterer during the year should also have meant its legal suspension.
Also, the report said that BP PLC had refused use of the tanker in 1997 and that a Royal Dutch/Shell Group affiliate had refused the tanker in 1998.
It also said the consignment level of the ship had been exceeded and that there was not enough bunker fuel to preserve maneuvering capacity in case of need.
The officially requested report also blamed the state and maritime authorities, saying they believed for so long that the incident was a false emergency that the proper procedures for control and intervention were not activated in time.
TotalFinaElf has been under fire recently for an explosion at its Grande Paroisse fertilizer plant that badly damaged part of the town of Toulouse and killed 29 people. The cause is being investigated. If terrorist action is proven, the state may pay for the damages; if not, TotalFinaElf may be liable for a hefty reparation and repair cost.