The bow of the Prestige oil tanker floats above water moments before sinking in waters off northwestern Spain in this November 19, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hanna
The insurer of the Prestige oil tanker which sank off the coast of Spain in 2002 has expressed its pleasure with today’s verdict finding the Captain and Chief Engineer not guilty of environmental crimes, but says it is “extremely surprised and disappointed” that the charge against the Captain for disobeying government authorities was upheld.
As gCaptain reported previously, three Judges presiding over Spain’s high court acquitted Captain Apostolos Mangouras, Chief Engineer Nikolaos Argyropoulos and the former head of Spain’s Merchant Navy, Jose Luis Lopez, of charges of crime against the environment in connection to the 2002 oil spill, but upheld a lesser charge against Captain Mangouras of disobedience and sentenced him to a nine month suspended sentence.
The 26-year-old, single-hulled tanker suffered damaged to one of its fuel tanks during a storm on November 14, 2002 while carrying 77,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.
Knowing the danger, Captain Mangouras sought refuge in a Spanish port but was refused by the authorities and ordered back out to sea. The ship subsequently broke in two and sank six days later.
The resulting oil spill wreaked havoc along coastlines of Spain, but also touched the shores of France and Portugal. The event is considered the worst environmental disaster in Spain’s history.
In a statement, the insurer of the Prestige, London P&I Club, applauded the not guilty verdicts against the Captain and Chief Engineer, but expressed frustration that the charge of disobedience against the Captain was upheld while Jose Luis Lopez, who ultimately refused to provide a place of refuge and ordered the tanker to be towed out to sea, was acquitted.
“The Club is extremely surprised and disappointed that the charge of disobeying the Spanish authorities served against the Master has been upheld,” the statement read. “It is all the more unexpected given that Capt Mangouras voluntarily remained on board the stricken vessel at great risk to his own life, and whose actions were praised by the emergency responders in the immediate aftermath of the incident.”
The statement added that “it is also surprising that Mr Lopez-Sors was acquitted despite his role in the handling of the casualty, specifically for his actions in refusing to allow the vessel to seek a Place of Refuge and the decision he took to send the vessel out towards an oncoming storm with no specific destination.”
Commenting on the verdicts, Director of the managers of the London Club, Steve Roberts, said “It is a great shame that the opportunity to learn lessons surrounding Places of Refuge has not been taken. This situation must be avoided in the future.’
He continued, “While we are pleased that the Captain has been found not guilty of environmental crimes, his conviction for disobedience is baffling considering the evidence available to the Court. It should not be forgotten that these men have endured 11 years of trial in order to reach this point.”
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