Court Upholds CMA CGM Manslaughter Verdict Over Captain’s Suicide

manslaughter verdict in captain's suicide
Captain committed suicide after being relieved of his command aboard the CMA CGM Laperouse (Kees Torn photo - CC BY-SA 2.0)

Published Feb 10, 2023 5:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

More than a decade after the suicide death of one of the masters working for CMA CGM, a French court has reportedly upheld a lower court’s decision convicting and fining the shipping giant of manslaughter for contributing to the captain’s death. The French news service Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that it saw a copy of the verdict from the appellate court on February 8 two weeks after the final verdict in the case was handed down.

The court reportedly rejected an appeal from CMA CGM on a December 2020 verdict that found the company contributed to the suicide fining CMA CGM €100,000 (approximately $107,000 at the current exchange rate). The court ruled that the lower court “justified its decision and made an exact application of the laws.”

The case stemmed from a December 2010 accident in which the CMA CGM containership Laperouse collided with a small coastal cargo ship the Thebe in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands. Then one of the largest containerships in the world, the 157,000 dwt vessel with a capacity of over 13,000 TEU hit a 2,500 dwt general cargo ship. The Thebe was badly damaged but remained afloat and with assistance from three rescue vessels made it safely to port. The Laperouse was undamaged and was permitted to continue its voyage.

An investigation laid the blame for the collision with one of the containership’s officers who resigned from CMA CGM. The captain, Philippe Deruy was cleared of all responsibility for the accident. The captain was permitted to stay with his vessel but CMA CGM then assigned him to train a replacement and ordered Deruy to leave his command when the vessel reached the Suez Canal. He was given what the court found was an “ill-defined post ashore.”

On February 14, 2011, the 47-year-old captain hanged himself in the basement of his apartment building in Nice, France, less than two months after the collision. During the court case it was reported that he wrote in his suicide note “I don’t have a future, and that, to me, is unbearable.” A year later, his mother, sisters, and brother filed a complaint and the Marseille Public Prosecutor’s Office opened a preliminary investigation into the death.

During the court case, it came out that there was an internal struggle within CMA CGM after the accident with the majority of the senior executives believing that the captain should be retained in his position. Reports point out that he had a stellar record including previously being recognized for avoiding a serious accident and damage to his ship when a line parted in the port of Tangier. However, Jacques Saade, CEO of CMA CGM, and the general manager of the shipping subsidiary were in favor of dismissing Deruy after the collision.

The court found in 2020 that CMA CGM had breached its obligation to ensure the safety and protection of the physical and mental health of Deruy. The process leading up to his dismissal created uncertainty with canceled interviews, no timetable, and a lack of process following the company’s policies. The disciplinary sanctions the court said were handed down without following the procedures during what the court found was an intense struggle for influence within the staff of the company. 

The court ordered the publication of its 2020 judgment to create awareness in the maritime world. Its goal was to set an example so that there would never be a similar case in the future.

Media reports in France said that CMA CGM settled a civil case. The company also later placed a plaque honoring the captain for his actions in preventing the accident in Tangier.

Top photo by Kees Torn of the vessel in 2019 - (CC BY-SA 2.0)