Spanish court serves prison sentence to Prestige tanker captain

THE Supreme Court of Spain has revoked the acquittal of the captain in charge of doomed tanker MV Prestige, which broke up and sank off the coast of Galicia in 2002. 

Mutual insurance company The London P&I Club and the vessel´s owner Mare Shipping Inc. have also been found financially liable for the disaster, which saw the 63,000 tons of oil spilled causing immense damage to the fishing industry, wildlife and the environment as 2,980 kilometres of pristine Atlantic coastline was blackened with sludge. 

An estimated €4.1 billion worth of damage was caused, and the latest ruling from Spain´s top court will pave the way for outstanding compensation claims, more than a decade after the spill. 

In a 2013 court appearance, Greek captain Apostolos Mangouras and his ship´s chief engineer argued that their management of the situation included no intentionally negligent act, and the pair were subsequently acquitted of environmental crimes, triggering global uproar and protests in Galician cities. 

In September 2015, Spain´s State prosecutor, Luis Navajas, saw fit to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, describing the 2013 verdict as “flawed,” and arguing that “the prestige of Spain as a state that defends its coasts and its economic wealth was called into question by this decision.” 

At the Supreme Court hearing, the presiding magistrate accused Captain Mangouras of “gross negligence” referring to his decision to sail despite bad weather reports, and to his knowledge of the age and poor condition of the vessel, which had a malfunctioning auto pilot system and was once, before being resurrected for its fateful final voyage, consigned to die in a Saint Petersburg ship yard.   

The skipper was then sentenced to a two-year jail term, while the ship´s insurers The London P&I Club could face liability for up to €920 million of the accrued damages.

Tellingly absent from the proceedings was incumbent Spanish Premier and Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy, who, as deputy prime minister at the time of the accident, had ordered the ailing vessel out to sea instead of following through with an emergency plan that confined the ship to a Spanish port.

A Greenpeace Spain spokesperson has since complained that Captain Mangouras was being used as “a scapegoat” in a case which involved so many other key players. The environmental organisation also questioned the €4.1 billion damages bill, comparing it to the €19 billion BP were forced to pay as settlement for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.  

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