Record fine for voluntary pollution of French seas

A French court slapped a record 800,000 Euro fine on the captain and owners of a ship responsible for a 61km fuel slick off the French coast in 2005, after it deliberately released water polluted with fuel and oil into the sea.

Passing the Breton coast in the early hours of 20 September 2005, the container ship Maersk Barcelona had been discharging highly contaminated water from its hold for several hours when French coastguards spotted the enormous slick of pollution trailing behind it, at a record length of 61km.

The 800,000 Euro fine is the highest ever imposed for marine pollution in France. In what has proved a truly international affair, Viktor Mykhaylov, the Ukrainian captain of the Bahama-registered vessel, will pay 10% of the amount due, while the German owner V-Ships must cover the rest.

At the time of the incident, the Monaco-based company that managed the ship argued that it is perfectly legal for ships to discharge water into the sea – until it emerged that the liquid in fact contained much more hydrocarbon than the permitted 15 parts per million.

And, according to the regional authorities in Brest, northwest France, the ship “had no right to be discharging at that location” in the first place.

The Brest authorities had said at the time that “this could cost them [the shipping company] dearly.” They have now been proven right.

Having been hit with a 500,000 Euro fine immediately after the incident, the ship was forced to undergo work on its fuel combustion waste discharge system and repairs to reduce oil leakage, with the 800,000 Euro fine now added onto the bill.

Such pollution incidents, including voluntary ones, are not uncommon – Maersk Barcelona was the 28rd ship to be charged with polluting French seas since May 2003.

Goska Romanowicz

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