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The Accused of the Prestige Environmental Catastrophe in Spain Are Exonerated

Marea negra en una playa gallega. Foto de Wikimedia Commons con licencia CC by SA 3.0

Black slick at a Galician beach.  Photo from Wikimedia Commons used under license CC by SA 3.0

On the 13th of November 2002, the petrol tanker Prestige wrecked off the coast of Galicia, in northern Spain, causing a highly toxic oil spill to pollute Spanish and French coasts in what is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in seafaring history.

Eleven years later, after ten years of investigation and a nine month trial, the Galician High Court of Justice has acquitted the three defendants – ship's captain, Apostolos Mangouras, Chief Engineer, Nikolaos Argyropoulos, and ex-director of the Merchant Navy, José Luis López Sors – of all crimes against the environment. 

The catastrophe occurred when, due to unknown causes, one of the ship's oil tanks punctured close to the “Coast of Death.”  The ship's captain asked Spanish authorities for permission to dock, but was prohibited from bringing the tanker closer to the coastline for fear that the leakage would pollute the port.  He received the same response from Portuguese and French authorities.  The Prestige was forced to return to the high seas, with a cracked hull and in terrible weather conditions, which would later lead to its sinking and a serious environmental and economic catastrophe.

 

El petrolero Prestige a punto de hundirse tras partirse en dos. Foto del blog Ecología Verde con licencia CC by NC 3.0

The oil tanker, Prestige, about to sink after splitting in two.  Photo taken from the blog Ecología Verde and used under license CC by NC 3.0

According to the blog El ojo Sostenible [The Sustainable Eye, es],

  • La catástrofe del Prestige fue la mayor catástrofe de este tipo ocurrida en Europa y la segunda del mundo después de Exxon Valdez en Alaska.
  • 2.000 km de costa se vieron afectadas y entre 250.000 y 300.000 aves murieron.
  • El coste supuso más de 10.000 millones de euros.
  • The Prestige catastrophe was the largest of its kind in Europe and the second worldwide, following the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.
  • 2000 km of coastline were affected and between 250,000 and 300,000 seabirds killed.
  • Cleanup costs climbed to more than 10 billion Euros.

The sentence has reverberated nationally and internationally with publications suchas as Aljazeera [en], The Telegraph [en], The Times [en], BBC [en], The New York Times [en], Le Monde [fr] and Spiegel [de], among others, covering the topic.  In Spain, the court's decision has outraged citizens, who have expressed their frustration in social media networks.  In Twitter, “Prestige” has been a trending topic for several days.

 ”Prestige” case: From everyone to jail, to everyone free! Long live wine!

Han sido 10 años esperando la sentencia del Prestige. La Justicia es lenta, pero injusta.

Waiting 10 years for the Prestige sentence. Justice is slow, but unfair.

The Prestige committed suicide. 

Manel Fontdevila: No one found guilty in Prestige case.

Some tweets compared and contrasted the disparity between this sentence and others:

We're idiots in this country: A 200 Euro fine for a man eating a croissant while cycling, and nothing for the Prestige case.

Playing the #piano: noise contamination and seven years in prison. The #Prestige dumps 63,000 tons of oil and it isn't a crime #verguenzadejusticia [Disgraceful sentence]

No one guilty in the Prestige case; but for defending public education?  Four years jail #MarcaEspaña [indicate Spain] http://t.co/5XXxH4Q4Gn [es]

Iván Pandora, in his blog La Caja de Pandora [Pandora's Box, es] writes:

Un grupo de voluntarios trabaja, en la localidad de Muxía, en la limpieza del fuel vertido por el petrolero 'Prestige'. Foto de eldiario.es con licencia CC by SA

In the Muxía region, a group of volunteers works to clean up the oil dumped by the Prestige tanker.  Photo taken from eldiario.es and used under license CC by SA

Parece que el hecho de que ese barco (monocasco) – que según los expertos era muy anticuado y con medidas de seguridad más que precarias – tuviera permiso para navegar por las costas gallegas no es punible.

La controvertida decisión de alejar el barco y esparcir el fuel durante horas por toda la costa, tampoco.

La pésima gestión del gobierno y la lentitud por no decir inoperancia, parece que no merece ninguna disculpa oficial.

 

It seems the case is nonpunishable due to the that the fact that the ship – single-hulled and, according to experts, very old and equipped with more than precarious security measures – had permission to navigate through the Galician coastline.

Also nonpunishable, it seems, was the controversial decision to remove the tanker from the coastline, spreading oil throughout the area for hours.

The government's abominable management and slowness, if not uselessness, seem to be deserving of not a single official apology.

Blogger Juantxo López de Uralde laments that charges were never pressed against those principally responsible for the catastrophe:

Ya al juicio se llegó sin que ninguno de los responsables políticos reales de aquella tragedia se sentaran en el banquillo. (…) Pero no sólo nos llama la atención la falta de políticos, sino también hay que preguntarse cómo es posible que ninguno de los responsables del fuel, del flete, de las compañías propietarias del buque… se sentaran en el banquillo. Pero es muy doloroso que quede impune la negligencia criminal de aquellos que mandaron el barco “al quinto pino”.

The trial came to an end without a single person politically responsible for that tragedy sitting in the docks.  (…) Apart from the remarkable lack of politicians, we have to ask ourselves how it's possible that not one of those responsible for the fuel, the cargo, the shipping company…sat there in the docks.  But it's particularly painful that the criminal negligence of those who sent the tanker out to sea went unpunished.

The platform Nunca Máis has decided not to appeal the sentence and the region's fishermen's cooperative is considering the same, due to the very high legal fees involved [es].  According to El Confidencial [es], in this catastrophe, it's the taxpayers who lose out:

Voluntarios limpiando la playa de Carnota (La Coruña). Captura de pantalla del vídeo «Historias del Chapapote» con licencia CC by SA 3.0

Volunteers cleaning the beach at Carnota (La Coruña). Screen shot from the video «Historias del Chapapote» [Tar Stories] used by license CC by SA 3.0

La sentencia considera que los únicos tres procesados por el accidente no incurrieron en ningún delito, por lo que no se le puede exigir responsabilidad civil a nadie. La consecuencia más importante es que los seguros del armador no cubrirán los gastos que generaron las labores de regeneración de la costa. (…) La Fiscalía cifró en 4.328 millones de euros los gastos y los daños generados (…). Pero el dictamen anula cualquier reclamación económica.

The sentence considers the three defendants processed not guilty of charges, and for this reason, civil liability cannot be imposed upon anyone.  The most significant consequence is that the shipowner's insurance won't cover the costs incurred in the coastal cleanup.  (…)  The prosecutor quoted around 4.328 billion Euros in costs and damages (…).  But the ruling takes away any right to economic claims.

Costs could rise if French plans [es] to re-file the administrative review presented by the coastal protection trade union of Las Landas [French area affected by the spill] to the National High Court, days after the disaster, are successful.  Their lawyer, Renaud Lahitète says:

Lo presentamos al día siguiente de llegar fuel a nuestras costas por precaución, para poder actuar en caso de que se dictaminase que no había delito penal, como así lo dice ahora la sentencia.

We presented the review as a precaution the day after oil arrived on our shores, in order to be able to act in the case of no criminal offence being laid, just as the sentence now says.

Greenpeace Spain now considers the sentence to be “a white card allowing the petrol industry to put the environment, and citizens, at risk.”  The organization's campaign director, María José Caballero states [es]:

La sentencia demuestra que en España no estamos preparados para juzgar una catástrofe medioambiental, ni para condenarla, ni para defender el medio ambiente.

The sentence shows that in Spain we are not yet ready to try an environmental catastrophe [in the courts], neither to condemn it, nor to defend the environment.

In Muxía.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

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