Spanish Supreme Court Confirms $1.9B Judgement for Prestige Spill

The Prestige settles beneath the surface, November 2002 (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 12-21-2018 05:50:06

Spain's highest court has ruled that Capt. Apostolos Mangouras and the London P&I Club owe the government of Spain $1.9 billion in damages for the 2002 Prestige oil spill. The decision confirms a previous ruling from a lower court in Galicia.

On November 13, 2002, the tanker Prestige suffered structural damage in a storm and began leaking oil. Capt. Mangouras reported the damage and requested access to a port of refuge, but Spanish officials refused, and flew their own appointed master out to the ship to take charge. With a combination of sailing and towing, they brought the Prestige further out to sea. On November 19, she broke up and sank. The Prestige released an estimated 63,000 tonnes of crude oil, polluting thousands of miles of coastline and costing the regional economy approximately $6 billion. It was the largest environmental disaster in Spain's history, and it took a force of more than 300,000 people - many of them volunteers - to clean up the damage.

According to a previous lawsuit filed by Spain's government in a federal court in New York, all three of Prestige's sister ships were scrapped in the years before the casualty due to concerns about metal fatigue in their single-walled hulls. According to an analysis conducted in 1996, this classwide fatigue issue could lead to failure between frames 61 and 71, the location where Prestige's hull ruptured six years later. 

Despite evidence indicating that the vessel's seaworthiness may have been a contributing factor in the casualty, Spain's highest court has held 81-year-old Capt. Mangouras personally responsible for the spill. In 2016, the Spanish Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and convicted Mangouras of gross negligence during the vessel’s final voyage. It sentenced him to two years in prison. “This sets a deplorable precedent,” said Intertanko’s Managing Director Katharina Stanzel. “Are ships’ masters who exercise best professional judgement in impossible circumstances to be shamefully treated as criminals?” The ruling opened the door to a financial judgement against Capt. Mangouras and the vessel's insurer. 

Spanish media report that litigation over the London P&I Club's liability may continue through an arbitration process in London.