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NEWS | Sunday, 03 February 2008

A little bit of Erika off our minds

David Darmanin

A Parisian court recently found French Oil Company Total and Italian shipping classification society RINA guilty of the 20,000-tonne oil spill that resulted from the wreck of Malta-registered tanker Erika in 1999.
The two organisations have been imposed a fine of €375,000 for maritime pollution and a compensation of almost €200 million, paid to the various parties affected by the oil disaster.
The incident, occurring some 400km off the Brittany coast, affected about 150,000 birds, of which 72,000 were killed. In fact LPO, the French Birdlife partner, received the largest share of the compensation.
A group of experts who looked into the affair reported in 2005 that Erika had areas of corrosion at the base of its tanks, which should have prevented the ship from being certified seaworthy. They also said that certain repairs to the ship had not been carried out, although its papers claimed that they had been. The experts called the storm a contributing factor to the ship sinking, but not the only cause.
A spokesperson for the Minister responsible for the Maritime Authority, Ċensu Galea confirmed with this newspaper that there are no court cases pending over this issue.
“Over the past nine years, the Ministry has upgraded the legislation, removed substandard shipping and set up the Malta Maritime Authority for improved management of the register,” she said.
Asked whether the Ministry agrees with the sentence handed down on Total and RINA, the spokesperson said that it is not up to the Ministry to pass judgement.
On his part, MMA Chairman Dr Marc Bonello told this newspaper that the authority has been resilient in increasing the standards of the maritime industry in Malta, with special focus on certification.
“Preparations leading us to where we are today have started even before the Erika disaster,” he said. “At a certain point, Malta had reached a peak of 78.5 gross tonnage in its registers. We have gone a step beyond the consideration to quantity of tonnage but we’re now also looking at the quality that comes in. Increased restrictions, better legislation and significant investment in human resources had, at a certain point, led to a reduction in gross tonnage registered with MMA by more than half. Also due to EU accession, we are now catching the attention of a larger number of ship owners in a more varied spectrum of interested parties within the Maritime industry. The recent registration of a cruise ship owned by the prestigious firm Celebrity is a case in point.”


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03 February 2008

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