Start of the fight : 22/04/2011
Fight won by : Surfrider Foundation Europe
Water pollution in the Mediterranean sea: the degassing of an Italian ship, the SDS Rain, in French territorial waters, off Marseille in April 2010, created a 22 km long and 50 m wide oil spill.
SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION
On April 22, 2010, a French Customs surveillance aircraft detected maritime pollution by oil of a length of 22 km and a width of 50 m in the wake of the Italian SDS Rain at 18 km from the coast of Marseille. This ship left Fos sur Mer in the direction of Turkey. It was diverted and immobilized at the port of Marseille until payment, one week later, of a deposit of 800 000 euros, that allowed him to go back to sea.
Surfrider Foundation Europe leads a civil legal action to ensure that this degassing will not go unpunished. These actions are clearly part of the mission of the organization, which aims to protect and enhance the oceans, the waves, and the coastline.
Since 2003, it is the 12th ship caught in the act of rejecting harmful substances in the Mediterranean Sea. However, there are still many incidents for which the polluters are never identified. For the past two years, Surfrider has been systematically lobbying the degassing industry to raise awareness among those guilty of acting so little respectful of the environment.
The first procedure started in Marseille on January 11, 2012. A month later, the owner was fined 750,000 euros and the captain 250,000 euros (of which 225,000 were to be paid by the owner), a total of 1 million euros.
The other party appealed against the decision on April 30, 2013, and the Aix en Provence Court of Appeal acquitted the owner and the captain. The judges decided that there was some doubt about the substance released intentionally. The ship owner used the confusion over the nature of the pollution because at the time of detection, that the crew was cleaning the deck of the vessel. They told the judges that the substance observed by the aircraft was sodium feldspar, cargo residues from the last voyage released at sea with the deck wash water. For the prosecutor, the civil case and the customs expert, there was no doubt on the content: the evidence seemed to prove unequivocally the presence of oil pollution. For the first time, the public prosecutor appealed the decision to restore the law and, consequently, to condemn the company.
The Supreme Court breaks the judgment of the Court of Appeal and cancels in all its provisions. The case is referred to the Court of Appeal of Aix en Provence, which condemns the company and the owner of the SDS Rain, the latter appeal in the higher court, which outcome we are waiting.
Despite the discouragement of this new procedure, we hope for a positive epilogue for the protection of the oceans in this long-standing affair.
On Thursday, 22nd of April 2010, the SDS Rain, sailing under Italian flag, is caught red handed causing an oil pollution in French territorial waters, at 18km off the Marseille coast. The ship has left Fos-Sur-Mer and is bound for Turkey.
On the 14th of February 2011, the trial is adjourned until the 11th of January 2012. During the lawsuit, Surfrider Foundation Europe is present both before the courthouse with a citizen mobilisation organised on the initiative of the Bouches-du-Rhône Chapter, and inside, where our environmental lawyer, Cristina Barreau, represents the association during the trial. The Deputy Prosecutor Serge Bocoviz demands the conviction of the Italian owner to a fine of €750,000.
On the 15th of February 2012, the verdict is rendered and the owner and the captain of the vessel are sentenced to fines of €750,000 and €250,000 respectively (€225,000 of which is to be settled by the owner). Surfrider Foundation Europe and the other environmental associations involved as civil plaintiffs receive compensation for non-material damages and celebrate this decision rendered by the criminal court of Marseille, which, once more, applies the polluter-pays principle. Both the owner and the captain appeal against the verdict.
On the 30th of April 2013, the appellate court acquits the owner and the captain, a decision which completely contradicts the first judgement.
In May 2013, SFE decides not to leave it there and brings the case before the Court of Cassation.