Start of the action : 18/09/2013

Degassing of a Danish Ship, the Maria Theresa, off the coast of Antifer, creating maritime pollution by the discharge of harmful substances over an area of 18 KM

SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION

On 18 September 2013, the helicopter of the Le Havre Customs Airborne Surveillance Brigade observed pollution by the discharge of harmful substances in the wake of the Danish chemical tanker MARIA THERESA off Antifer in French territorial waters. The extent of surface pollution is about 18 km and 50 to 100 metres wide.

Contacted by the aircraft pilot, the ship’s captain acknowledged a discharge of bilge residue, composed of oil used in bio-diesel (FAME=Fatty Acid Methlyl Ester), classified in category Y of Annex II of the MARPOL Convention. The discharge at sea of substances classified in category Y of the MARPOL Convention, such as vegetable oils, may be authorised under certain conditions. However, they are strictly prohibited if they are made within 12 nautical miles of the coast because they can cause damage to coastal fauna and flora.  For the master, it was an accidental discharge of this washing water with a volume of 1m³ that occurred when the vessel was wetting its ink. He explained that this accidental leak could have occurred due to the improper closing of the tank control valve. (Tank containing cargo washing residues).

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 16 April 2014 at the Le Havre court. On 26 May 2014, the Le Havre High Court found the shipowner and the captain guilty of discharging harmful liquid substances and ordered the shipowner to pay a fine of €100,000 and the captain to pay a fine of €50,000, 50% of which was to be borne by the liable civil party.

The defendants have appealed against the decision. The appeal trial took place on 10 September 2015. During this trial, the prosecutor recharacterized the facts and considered that the release was accidental and no longer intentional. He, therefore, made his requisitions in this regard. On 14 October 2015, the judges delivered their judgment and released the defendants. They considered that the conditions for the offence to be constituted: “manifestly deliberate violation of a particular obligation of safety or care provided for by law or regulation or gross negligence that exposes the environment to serious damage” were not met.

Surfrider does not believe in the theory of the accident in the Maria Theresa case and has therefore appealed to the Court of Cassation to remind that the dumping of harmful vegetable oils is illegal at this distance from the coast.