Shell says it banned the Erika in 1998

TotalFina has denied that it is allowed to conduct its own inspections of ships it charters. The statement, designed to downplay the company's liability for the Erika oil disaster, has been undermined by Shell's admission that its inspections of Erika resulted in a partial ban.

“We did inspect the Erika in May 1998 and we downgraded it from being acceptable to carry Shell cargo to just being allowed to enter Shell terminals,” a Shell spokesperson told edie. A further inspection in January 1999 confirmed the earlier decision. The spokesperson could offer no details as to why a ban on carrying Shell cargo had been issued.

TotalFina has argued that the Italian marine verification association (RINA) was responsible for determining whether the Erika was seaworthy.

The Erika oil spill took place on 12 December 1999. Initial predictions from France’s The French Centre for Information, Research and Experience into Water Pollution Accidents (Cedre) downplayed the chance that the spill would wash up on Brittany’s coast. When it did, the French public accused officials of mismanagement and collusion with TotalFina (see related story).

As the weeks have passed, conflicting reports as to the Erika’s ‘state of health’ prior to its sinking and its ownership have been published. Antonia Pollara, president of Panship International, the Italian company that operated the Erika, has denied that the ship was old and in danger of corrosion. In an interview with French daily Libération, published on 20 January, Pollara argued that the sinking of the ship was not caused by bulkhead corrosion. Despite assurances that there is nothing to hide regarding the Erika’s ownership, Pollara could not give any details as to who owns Tevere Shipping, the Maltese owners.

The French Government has undertaken a review of marine safety and is due to report next month.

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