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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

POINTS OF VIEW

Exactly two years to the day from the date of his arrest by the Spanish authorities, Apostolos Mangouras, master of the oil tanker Prestige, has been granted permission by the Appeal Court in La Coruna  to travel from Spain to Greece. His release by the Spanish authorities is conditional on his reporting every other week to the Greek authorities and on returning to Spain in three months’ time for a review of his case.

This landmark comes after 85 days in jail followed by 21 months of detention in Spain after a Euro 3m bail was posted by the London P&I Club, the conditions of which involve regular reporting to the Spanish police. A number of other appeals to alter his conditions of bail have failed.

Mangouras is accused of having disobeyed the Spanish authorities early on as the Prestige tragedy unfurled, and of contributing to a serious oil pollution. However the man himself claims he risked his life by staying on board the stricken tanker in an attempt to avoid the ultimate disaster.

But not in two years has Mangouras been brought to trial in order formally to face the charges and explain his actions. A date has still to be set for the trial.

The case of Captain Mangouras has prompted the shipping industry to reinforce its resistance to those parts of the draft European Union (EU) directive on ship-source pollution that introduce criminal sanctions for infringements.  While the industry supports the European Commission’s aim to penalise intentional or deliberate pollution, it emphasises that accidental discharge is not considered as a criminal offence under international maritime law unless caused with intent to cause damage, or caused recklessly and with the knowledge that damage would probably result. Thus the application of criminal sanctions to accidental discharges would be in conflict with international maritime law, to which EU member states are contracting parties and therefore have an obligation to apply.

The industry has warned the European Commission of the negative impact that a criminalisation of accidental discharges based on serious negligence will have on the seafaring community. When public opinion asks for strong action against oil pollution, seafarers become the scapegoats and are made to carry the full burden of blame for the incident. The Master and crew run huge risks during and after an oil pollution incident. The fear of criminal charges could well prejudice their actions during a potential pollution incident, as well as potentially prejudicing both accident reporting and accident investigation as seafarers become reluctant to disclose vital information if they believe that they risk a prison term.

Ironically, at a time when Europe is subsidising its shipbuilding industry, is supporting the introduction of tonnage tax regimes for European shipowners with European registries, and is developing other measures in support of European flags, the criminalisation of seafarers for accidental oil pollution is going to put off good young men and women who want to make a career at sea. These proposals will compound the already-existing shortage of good, qualified officers and experienced crew. The effect will be a loss of maritime competence and knowledge within Europe, and the tanker industry will suffer as European  seafarers avoid employment on board ships that run a higher risk of criminalisation from oil pollution – consequences that most in Europe wish to avoid.

Contact: Bill Box