The Spanish supreme court has sentenced Apostolos Mangouras, captain of the capsized tanker Prestige, to two years in prison. The unexpected ruling overturns a previous sentence which had cleared the Mangouras of criminal responsibility.
It also opens the door to possible P&I claims for damages caused by the 63,000 tonne oil spill that occurred in 2002 when the tanker split in half and then sank off Spain’s northwestern coast. The vessel’s insurer, Steamship Mutual, is likely to face significant claims by those impacted by the spill – with news reports quoting one prosecutor as calling for a €4 billion pay out.
The new ruling attributes blame to Mangouras, on the basis that he deliberately guided the badly maintained vessel into treacherous sea conditions despite knowing that the tanker had a weakened structure and was overloaded with bunker fuel.
ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel, attacked the ruling and said, “This decision represents the dying gasps of a 14-year-long attempt to deflect blame onto the shoulders of an octogenarian man, who has been cleared in the court of world opinion and by his peers. Thankfully it is likely to be as unenforceable as it is illogical. This innocent man cannot again be made to sit needlessly in jail.”
He continued: “The Mangouras case was one of the worse examples of the kneejerk criminalisation of seafarers. This latest piece of victimisation reminds us that we must all remain vigilant to protect seafarers from these injustices.”
The ruling confirmed the acquittal of the Prestige chief engineer and of Jose Luis Lopez Sors, Spain’s former director-general of the Merchant Marine.
London P&I Club issued this statement: "Given previous judgments (including the recent English Court of Appeal judgment upholding and confirming the application of the Club’s terms including its provisions for London arbitration and “pay to be paid”), the London Club are most surprised at the direction that the Court has taken generally, including in respect of an international convention. The London Club and the International Group Pool look forward to clarification and the opportunity to study the findings in more detail before making further comment."
Another statement was issued by InterManager stating: "The sentencing of the Prestige Master Apostolos Mangouras was high on the agenda of the InterManager Executive Board. The InterManager Executive Committee agreed to throw its full weight towards getting the shipping industry to act together in protesting what it described as a totally unfair and abhorrent court decision."