On Wednesday, a court in the city of A Coruña (or La Coruña) awarded the Spanish government a total of $1.9 billion in damages for the 2002 oil spill from the tanker Prestige, which broke up and sank after she was refused entry to a harbor of refuge.
The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association (The London Club) is obligated to pay $1 billion of this amount, and ship owner Mare Shipping and the IOPC Funds are responsible for the balance, according to the Telegraph. A spokesman for the London Club said that the insurer “remains concerned at the direction that the Spanish court has taken generally.”
The spill polluted thousands of miles of coastline and more than one thousand beaches on the Spanish, French and Portuguese coasts, and it caused significant damage to the region’s fishing industry. It was the largest environmental disaster in Spain’s history, with a total impact estimated at approximately $6 billion. On Wednesday, the court left the door open to additional damage awards for individual localities along the coastline.
Last year, Spain’s Supreme Court convicted the Prestige’s master, 81-year-old Capt. Apostolos Mangouras, of gross negligence during the vessel’s final voyage. He was sentenced to two years in prison, sparking outrage in the maritime community – especially as Mangouras had requested permission to enter a harbor of refuge and had been turned away. “This sets a deplorable precedent,” said Intertanko’s Managing Director Katharina Stanzel, reacting to Mangouras’ conviction. “Are ships’ masters who exercise best professional judgement in impossible circumstances to be shamefully treated as criminals?”
The International Chamber of Shipping also criticized Mangouras’ conviction, noting that Spain’s Supreme Court held a one-day trial without Mangouras present. ICS also highlighted the differing standards of conduct that the court seemed to apply to Mangouras and to Spanish officials who were involved in the response. “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,” ICS wrote.