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FRANCE MAY OVERTURN OIL SPILL RULING

04/16/2012

France's highest court may annul the verdict against oil company Total for a 1999 spill. The case involves the sinking of the tanker Erika, which broke apart in a storm and spilled some 20,000 tons of oil into the Bay of Biscay, damaging coastline and wildlife. The top appeals court will rule May 24 on whether to annul the guilty verdict on the grounds that the tanker did not sink in French waters. The chartered tanker was Italian-owned, flying a Maltese flag, and sitting in an Exclusive Economic Zone when it sank, which limits France's jurisdiction. The initial ruling in 2008 ordered Total to pay 192 million euros (US $251 million) in damages to groups involved in the cleanup cost, and in 2010 an appeals court raised the sum to 200 million euros (US $261 million). Total has paid nearly 400 million euros (US $523 million) in cleanup costs and 375,000 euros (US $490,000) in fines, but nullification would clear its responsibility and place blame on Erika's Italian owners. Connie Lepage, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that it would be unjust for Total to be cleared of one of France's worst environmental disasters. For the full story see http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/11/us-total-ruling-idUSBRE83504Z20120411.