Start of the action : 15/01/2014
A TURKISH SHIP (DENIZ-S) DEGASSING OFF THE HAVRE CREATING MARITIME POLLUTION BY VEGETAL OIL
SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION
On 15 January 2014, a customs aircraft spotted pollution in the wake of the DENIZ-S, a chemical tanker flying the Turkish flag, 7 nautical miles off Le Havre. The ship was very close to the coast, in French territorial waters. The substance released from the vessel appears to be Fatty Acid Methyl Esther (FAME) which are vegetable oils. These were the remains of the last cargo transported, the ship sailing empty from Port Jérôme (Seine maritime) to Ghent (Belgium). Vegetable oil methyl ester has been classified in category Y of the International Convention MARPOL 73/78, which includes “Noxious liquid substances which, if discharged into the sea during tank cleaning or deballasting operations, are deemed to present a risk to marine resources or human health or to cause damage to amenities or other legitimate uses of the sea and therefore justify a limitation of the quality and quantity of discharges into the marine environment.
Surfrider Foundation Europe has filed a civil suit to ensure that this degassing will not go unpunished. These actions are clearly in line with the status of the association, which aims to protect and enhance the oceans, waves and coastline.
Suspected of deliberate pollution by harmful substances, the public prosecutor’s office in Le Havre ordered the ship to divert to the port of Dunkirk where it was detained until a bond of 150,000 euros had been paid. The shipowner paid the bond after two days and the ship was able to go back to sea.
The hearing at first instance was initially scheduled for 25 June 2014 and was postponed until 15 January 2015. The difficulty of this case lies in the qualification of the polluting substance discharged by the ship. Indeed, while there was no doubt that the release of vegetable oil was indeed voluntary, the defendants tried to demonstrate that it was an accidental release of a polluting substance related to the improper functioning of an aeration system. However, accidental releases are rarely punishable. The inspection by Ship Safety Centre inspectors revealed that the vessel was not properly maintained. The court issued its decision on February 23, 2015. The shipowner and the captain were found guilty of voluntary pollution and sentenced respectively to a fine of 100,000 euros and 50,000 euros (including 25,000 euros to be paid by the shipowner).
The guilty parties did not appeal the decision, so the trial is definitively won.