Processing Magazine

French oil company to go on trial for 1999 spill

February 6, 2006

French oil company Total SA will go on trial in Paris for its suspected role in a 1999 oil spill that blackened large swaths of the coast of western France. The Maltese-registered "Erika" tanker, hauling fuel oil owned by a unit of Total, split in two and sank in rough seas in December 1999, the Associated Press reports. The magistrate investigating the case has ordered the company to go on trial but has not yet set a date, judicial officials said. The officials did not want to be named because the case is ongoing. The oil company faces charges of pollution and "complicity in endangering people and property," the officials said. In the document ordering Total to stand trial, Investigating Judge Dominique de Talance said the company disregarded its own safety standards by chartering a 25-year-old ship. The magistrate also wrote that the company had been informed by crew a day before the spill that "leaks due to cracks in the deck raised fears of pollution." A spokesman for Total said the allegations were unfounded and noted that the company paid 200 million euros ($241 million) to clean France''s beaches, pump oil out of the ship and treat the waste. At least 10,000 tons of oil leaked into the sea and washed up on the region''s coastline, killing thousands of birds and leaving beaches coated with tarry oil. Others to be brought before the court in the case include Italian company Registro Italiano Navale, or RINA, which had inspected the vessel before it sank; Erika''s owner Giuseppe Savarese; Erika''s captain Karun Mathur; and Antonio Pollara, an official with the Italian company Panship who was in charge of technical assistance.