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Polluter Pays

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A court in Paris has found oil giant Total responsible for the sinking of the tanker Erika. The world’s fourth-largest oil company must pay a fine of €375,000 for negligence, plus €200 million in damages.

The incident, in December 1999, caused a 20,000 tonne slick of heavy oil which polluted 250 miles of the French Atlantic coast, killed or injured 300,000 seabirds and left a toxic legacy in the food chain. In all, 270,000 tonnes of waste comprising seawater, oil, sand and stones, had to be cleaned up. Prior to the court ruling, Total had already spent €200m on the cleanup operation. This may sound like a lot, but it’s a fleabite compared with Total’s latest record profits of €12 billion.

This is tremendous news. A major reason for global oil companies like Total being able to report such huge profits is that they can use a maze of paperwork and off-shore registration to evade or conceal responsibility for cost-cutting policies such as chartering unseaworthy rust-buckets like the Erika. Ségolène Royal, head of the Poitou-Charentes region, said in the Guardian:

“It is a very severe warning to careless transport groups, to the floating garbage cans that cross the seas, often in total impunity”

I hope this puts the fear of God into all companies. Quite frankly, anyone responsible for envionmental destruction on this scale should be tried on the same basis as war criminals.


Written by Pete Smith

January 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm

One Response

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  1. This is great news.

    Quite frankly, anyone responsible for envionmental destruction on this scale should be tried on the same basis as war criminals.

    Indeed! Even more so, arguably, as environmental damage arguably kills, harms and endangers even more people than war. This would also provide another hammer with which to beat the war criminals given the environmental costs of mobilising enormous armies.
    One problem, though: we seem to be pretty rubbish at prosecuting war criminals, except in the few cases where it is politically convenient for the powerful to do so. How else are George and Tony still walking free?


    January 17, 2008 at 5:03 pm

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