Start of the action : 08/08/2012

DEGASSING OF A RUSSIAN SHIP, THE MIKHAIL UTUSOV, IN FRENCH TERRITORIAL WATERS, NORTHWEST OF USHANT, CREATING OIL POLLUTION AT SEA OVER A LENGTH OF ABOUT 20 KILOMETRES

SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION

On August 28, 2012, a French customs aircraft observed an oil spill some 20 kilometres long in the wake of the Russian flagged MIKHAIL KUTUSOV, 140 miles off the French coast northwest of Ushant. The 180-metre long vessel, built in 1979, came from Gdansk, Poland, and was carrying sulphur to Morocco, and was diverted to Brest at the request of the Prosecutor, where it was detained and bonded at €500,000. The Russian shipowner company paid the bond so that the ship could go back to sea.

THE DEFENDERS

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.

LEGAL CONTEXT

The hearing at first instance took place on 4 April 2013 at the TGI in Brest. At trial, it was raised that the vessel was particularly poorly maintained and that there was a direct discharge system at sea without passing through the 15 ppm separator filter. The captain and the shipowner were sentenced at first instance to €1,000,000, 95% of which was paid by the shipowner (MURMANSK Shipping) and the defendants appealed against the decision. The case was again heard by the Court of Appeal of Rennes on 23 June 2016, the day before the hearing, the opposing party’s lawyer informed us that his clients were withdrawing from the hearing, but the debate was still held before the Court of Appeal on the conditions under which MURMANSK SHIPPING COMPANY had been cited as a defendant and not as a civilly liable company as provided in the text of the law. The Criminal Court had rejected the claims for damages brought against this company on the grounds that it had not been held civilly liable, but it still had to bear 95% of the fine. There was therefore a subtlety about the nature of the shipowner’s liability. However, just because the shipowner is not criminally liable does not mean that he should not be held liable for his civil negligence, and the judgment initially scheduled for 23 September 2016 has been extended four times. On 9 February 2017, the Rennes Court of Appeal delivered its judgment. The Court first noted the withdrawal of the appeal of the accused and the Public Prosecutor’s Office in criminal matters. The provisions of the judgment have therefore become final, as regards the public proceedings, thus confirming the fine imposed at first instance, with the shipowner having to pay a fine of €800,000 and the master a fine of €200,000, 95% of which is borne by the shipowner.