This week, the industry has condemned the judgment made by the Spanish Supreme Court who have sentenced master, Apostolos Mangouras, to two years’ imprisonment, finding him criminally liable for damages to the environment after the Prestige oil tanker spilled thousands of tonnes of oil after sinking in 2002.
Some are concerned that the acquittal granted to the master in 2013 by a lower Spanish court (after hearing the evidence) has been quickly and suspiciously overturned without hearing any used or additional evidence, and without the master being present, leading to the conclusion that this is an unfair trial.
Many in the industry are viewing the turnaround as one that is financially motivated. In 2013, when the lower Spanish court acquitted the master, the Spanish government missed out on any compensation as a result. This would have significantly hurt them financially, following the extensive damage to their beaches and coastlines.
At last week’s International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPCF) meeting, the ICS commented, “This decision appears to be highly unusual and has been reached through a somewhat contorted application of law to facts which were found to be correct by the lower court. The decision also seems entirely unbalanced, applying different standards when assessing the blameworthiness of the Master to those applied to government officials on shore, whose decisions were exonerated by the Supreme Court.” It added, “The actions by the Spanish government to pursue its claims against the shipowner, for what are expected to be enormous amounts in excess of the shipowner’s limits of liability, could seriously undermine the system of shared liability that has been agreed under the CLC/Fund liability and compensation regime.”
The ICS has expressed their fears on how this ruling could affect future compensation cases regarding oil spills, potentially jeopardising the whole system.
The European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) publically supports the master and actively seeks to change how all seafarers are treated in legal cases of this nature in the future.