The judgement of the Spanish Supreme Court in January this year in the Prestige oil spill case has raised fundamental questions as to whether it was reached in a fair trial, said the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

The Supreme Court’s judgement was reached after just one day, without hearing any new evidence and in the absence of the tanker’s captain Apostolos Ioannis Mangouras, the ICS said.

At the same time, the Supreme Court confirmed the acquittal of the Spanish civil servant.

The 1976-built tanker Prestige, 81,000dwt, sank on Nov 13, 2002, as she suffered a fracture in her starboard side due to rough seas while sailing some 27.5 miles west of Finisterre, Spain. She was refused a place of refuge by the Spanish authorities. Some 63,000 tons of fuel were discharged into the sea while the total damage cost of the oil spill was estimated at $4.4bn.

In May, the ICS said: “The Supreme Court’s decision was extremely surprising in that it overturned a lower court’s acquittal of the Master, in his absence, and without hearing any new evidence as to his knowledge about the condition of the ship. This raises fundamental questions as to whether it was a fair trial.” The ICS said that it fears that the entire system of efficient compensation for oil spills could be put in serious jeopardy because of unsound decisions being made by national courts.

“This judgement overturned that of a lower Spanish Court, in La Coruña in 2013, instead finding the Master criminally liable for damages to the environment and sentencing him to two years’ imprisonment, albeit likely to be suspended,” the ICS said.

The ruling was proof of the ill-treatment of seafarers, said European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) in a joint statement.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - July 2016 Issue
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