Contemporary approaches to the shortcomings of civil liability of the shipowner in cases of oil marine pollution

Kopela, Sophia (2010) Contemporary approaches to the shortcomings of civil liability of the shipowner in cases of oil marine pollution. In: Society of Legal Scholars Annual Conference 2010; 13 - 16 Sep 2010, Southampton, U.K.. (Unpublished)


The international civil liability regime for oil pollution damage has lately been criticised as inadequately fulfilling its objective, namely to provide adequate, prompt and satisfactory compensation for oil pollution damage, especially in cases of accidents leading to extensive pollution of the marine and coastal environment. Criticism is also directed against the inability of this regime to prevent the occurrence of such incidents, and to provide disincentives towards substandard oil transportation. This paper discusses potential shortcomings of the international liability regime in the light of the Erika disaster, and in particular in the light of the recent judgements of French criminal courts. Three interrelated issues brought forward in the judgments of the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris and the Cour d’Appel de Paris will be critically discussed: first, the civil liability of persons other than the shipowner; the criminal liability of the shipowner (and other people involved in the accident); and third, the acceptance of claims related to environmental damage per se. These pioneering decisions of the French criminal courts highlight the shortcomings of the international regime especially with regard to the limits of the civil liability of the shipowner, the channelling provisions excluding liability of other persons involved in the incident, and finally, the narrow approach adopted by the IOPC Fund regarding compensation of environmental damage. This paper examines the compatibility of the decisions of the French criminal courts with the international system on liability for oil pollution damage, and assesses the impact and potential implications of their approach for the future of the international liability regime.

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