Wednesday, October 27

The judicial labyrinth of the ‘Prestige’


The 'Prestige', at the moment of splitting in two off the Galician coast.

The ‘Prestige’, at the moment of splitting in two off the Galician coast.
Lavandeira Jr.

Almost 19 years after the oil spill of the Prestige, the old monohull continues its judicial journey. His journey has not only been erratic and suicidal at sea, but it has also lurched in court. Issued at the end of 2018 the criminal responsibility Due to the greatest environmental disaster that occurred in Spanish waters, with the condemnation of the ship’s captain, Apostolos Mangouras, to two years in prison, the payment of the bill that left the spill of more than 66,000 tons of fuel has not yet been resolved.

After a nearly ten years of instruction Y a nine month trial, the new litigation started at the end of 2019 in London, where Spain filed an executive lawsuit to collect from the insurance company of the Prestige (London P&I Club), los billion dollars (885 million euros) of the policy signed by the shipowner. This amount barely represents 40% of the more than 2,300 million in which the Supreme Court quantified the damages caused in more than 3,500 kilometers of coastline, from the mouth of the Miño in Portugal to the French coast.

This same week, the British Justice, which is the one that will solve the economic part of the case because the insurer has its headquarters in London, rejected the appeal filed by the company and endorsed the Supreme Court ruling that obliges it to pay the almost 900 million Insurance. Spain thus wins the first of the battles against the tanker environment, but a “Slow” and “complex” process in British courts.

On the one hand, the State Bar will have to overcome the Brexi, since with the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, instruments of legal cooperation that would previously make it easier to appeal before the British courts are lost. And on the other, the arbitration claimed by the insurer and which, according to sources close to the case, “has no intention of reaching an agreement.” “With arbitration, an arbitrator is proposed, who is the one who decides. And what it dictates is mandatory for both parties. Is to play heads or tails”They lament.

When will the judicial journey of the Prestige? Parties involved in the process assume that, on the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the oil tanker off the coast of Fisterra, in November 2022, the payment of the damages will still not have been resolved. If the British courts comply with the Supreme Court’s resolution, the almost 900 million euros will go to the coffers of the Spanish State, since after the Prestige accident it advanced the compensation to those affected.

  • Bumpy instruction. The judicial journey of the Prestige It started in the small court of Corcubión, which had to deal with the most lengthy summary in Galician history: almost 300,000 pages. The changes of judge during the nine years that the investigation lasted – up to six magistrates took the reins of the process -, the multiple international ramifications of the case, added to the anomalies in the expert opinions and the disagreement of the majority of the parties in person resulted in the research jam.
  • Decaffeinated trial. Neither payment of damages, nor prison sentence. After nine months of trial – it started coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the catastrophe, in November 2012 – the Provincial Court of A Coruña exempted the three accused from jail and payment of damages: the captain of the ship, the chief engineer , and the former director of the Merchant Navy, the only public position charged in the case. In a judgment handed down a year after the hearing was started, the court pointed out that ABS, the classifier that had certified months before the wreck, was solely responsible for the ship’s structural deficiencies. Prestige he was seaworthy and but he had not sat on the bench.
  • Supreme Court ruling. With almost twenty appeals against the exculpatory resolution of the only three defendants, the Supreme Court corrected the ruling of the Court of A Coruña by pointing out the captain as responsible for the environmental crime, also opening the door to the claim of civil responsibilities to the environment of the vessel. A decision that in practice only left the door open to claim the amount of the policy signed from the insurer.
  • Demand in USA. Faced with the Supreme Court ruling that the classification company was responsible, Spain withdrew from filing a new lawsuit against ABS. And it is that he had already lost a battle in the United States against ABS. By failing to see sufficient evidence to blame the company for the accident, the New York Second Circuit Court of Appeals exempted the classifier from paying one billion dollars in compensation, an amount claimed by Spain in the lawsuit it filed in May 2003 when considering that the Houston-based classifier acted negligently in certifying just six months before the oil slick that the Prestige could navigate.
  • Litigation in UK. Five years ago, Spain and France already fought the battle against the insurer in Great Britain, but they did not succeed in their claim. So they wanted the lawsuit for the insurance money to be in their respective jurisdictions instead of being subject to the British arbitration courts.
  • Last judicial front. The last word on the environmental disaster that caused the Prestige The British Justice will have it because the insurer’s headquarters are based in London. In an attempt to delay the process, the London P&I Club tried to maneuver an appeal to prevent the litigation from starting in the UK. But this same week, the judge Christopher Butche, in a sentence advanced by Expansión and collected by this newspaper, denied it and concluded that the insurer should have continued the judicial battle in the Spanish courts if, as it assures, in the process Their fundamental rights had been violated and a situation of defenselessness had arisen. But the process is still open, since it is possible to file an appeal. In addition, the insurer maintains two other procedures open to force an international arbitration, since – it claims – this is what the contract with the oil tanker prescribed.
  • Compensation already paid. Those affected by the oil slick have already received compensation for the damage caused by the spill, some items that were advanced by the different administrations and the Fidac. Although the Prosecutor’s Office estimated the damages caused by the spill at more than 4,400 million during the trial, the insurance policy has those one billion dollars limit. If the battle in the United Kingdom is won, practically all of that amount will go to the Spanish State, which in its day advanced the payments to the injured parties.


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