In an eagerly awaited decision, the French Cour de
cassation held on 25 September 20121 that France
had jurisdiction over the Erika oil spill case. The ruling
of the Court rejected the advisory opinion provided by the Deputy
Prosecutor (Avocat Général) earlier that
year, that France had no jurisdiction over the case.
The loss of the oil tanker Erika on 12 December 1999,
resulted in the pollution of some 400 km of the French coast. On 30
March 2010, the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed the criminal
conviction of the owner, the technical manager, the classification
society and Total, the charterer of the ship at the time of its
loss. Furthermore, the Paris Court of Appeal also confirmed the
concept of ecological damage (click here for previous articles in
April 2009 (The ERIKA decision - implications for Charterers
and Owners of oil cargoes) and in Legalseas
May 2010 (ERIKA - The Court of Appeal confirms the criminal
sanctions but holds Total not liable under the CLC)).
In its press release dated 25 September 2012, the Cour de
cassation stated that, in respect of the criminal action, it
had ruled that several provisions of the United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea, in relation to the protection and
preservation of the marine environment, served as a basis for
recognition that France had jurisdiction (i) over the case, and
(ii) to sanction involuntary oil pollution in this zone caused by a
vessel flying a foreign flag and resulting in severe damage to its
territorial sea and coast.
Regarding the civil action, on the basis of the International
Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (adopted in
1969 and amended by the 1992 Protocol) (CLC), the
Cour de cassation held that those participating in the act
of transport who were sued before a criminal judge and who
committed a reckless negligence (faute
téméraire), could be held liable in respect of
all categories of damage for which the Court of Appeal had assessed
civil liability. The Cour de cassation therefore held that
Total, who had been ruled exempt from civil liability in the Court
of Appeal decision of 2010, and which decision held other parties
liable for such civil damages, would also be liable for such
1Cass. crim, 25 Septembre 2012,
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