Erika Accident

Introduction On December 12 1999 the Maltese oil tanker Erica sunk in the Bay of Biscay outside the French coast of Brittany. The vessel had broken in two spilling an amount close to 19800 tones of heavy fuel oil. Additionally 6400 tones remained in the bow section of the sunken vessel and approximately 4800 tones in the stern section. Even though all crew members were rescued, this event would inevitably turn out to a huge disaster. Most of all because of the environmental consequences of the oil spill. In this paper I will first of all stress out the effects on the environment caused by the oil spill.

Then, the regulations that were applied to the incident under consideration will be analyzed. Moreover I will point out the problems which arise from the incident. Finally I will evaluate measures taken with the aim of avoiding any similar future incidents.

The tragic event of the tanker vessel Erika had a tremendous impact in the environment. As shown in the appendix, the catastrophe in the waters, the coasts and of course the sea life from the oil spill was huge. Yet, this wasn’t the only effect that this incident caused. The economic consequences were enormous affecting the fishing and the tourist sector for many years. Also the costs for cleaning up the waters and coasts were very high. As you can imagine, the damage made by the Erika oil spill remains one of the biggest environmental disasters of recent years. ( Regulations applied

The Erika oil spill moved the publics concern regarding the transportation of goods at sea. At that time it was a fact that a high percentage of vessels were old and not well maintained. That was also because the European rules on maritime safety were not as strict as they should have been. The already existing rules should be reinforced. The reaction of the European commission to the report of the Erika accident was very quick and decisive. The first thing they did, three months after the oil spill, was to adopt a series of proposals regarding the maritime safety of the European coastlines.

Then, in December 2000, a second set of proposals with rules and regulations was launched. Finally, in 2005 the commission adopted more measures that were part of the third Erika package. These three set of rules were named Erika I package, Erika II package and Erika III accordingly and will be described further on. All packages were a response to the Erika accident and their aim was to set more strict rules regarding the protection of the environment and the compensation of the oil spill – victims. Erica I package:

The main goal of the first Erika package was to improve, quality wise, the controls of vessels in ports which up until that time had proven to be inadequate. The quality controls would become more strict and thorough. If a vessel, subject to a control, was found to be of lower standards, than the ones set by the port state control, then it would be obliged to go through stringent annual inspections. The inspections would be more sufficient examining the vessel for deficiencies and elements that could be of any threat for the safety of the crew members and the environment. Also, some other factors may attract more inspections for a vessel.

The fact that a vessel is old (more than approximately 15 years), or flies a flag of convenience, or possibly has testimonies from its own workers for deficiencies inside the vessel will be subject to more inspections. In the table bellow we can see the number of detentions related with the ship’s age. We can see that as vessels ages, more detentions are being reported. (www.classnk.or)

In the next table the number of ships being inspected and detained in the years 1991- 1999 is depicted. Bellow you will notice the difference in inspections in the post Erika incident period. The number of inspections is higher keeping a good record on detentions of vessels. (


It has also been obligatory for EU Member States to inspect at least 25% of the vessels that enter into their ports. Thus the percentage, as shown in the table above, of vessels being detained is reduced in compare with the year 1999. The vessels are also obliged by the European Parliament to carry a black box when entering an EU port based on a timetable from the year 2002 until 2007. The second aspect of the first Erika package had to do with the role of the classification societies and the better control of their activities.

The role of a classification society is to establish the technical standards of the vessels and the offshore structures ensuring safety. Now, the classification societies will be given new guidelines in order improve their quality. This new package introduced some new features regarding the classification society’s operation: * There will be a detention of the classifications society approval if the deficiencies found are not being repaired. * Before the society approves the vessel there should already be a safety and pollution control performance granted. * When a vessel decides to switch class then quality criteria will be stricter and there will be transparency in the communication of information of the vessels belonging to the same class.

The third important change in the first Erika package was the obligatory switch of tanker vessels from single-hull to double-hull. By 2015 all single hull vessels should be eliminated. The reason for this switch is that in the event of an accident, a single-hull tanker vessel will be more likely a threat to the environment.

Double – hull vessels are more solid and strong limiting the chance for an oil spill to occur when the vessel collides. ( In the picture below you can see why double – hull tanker vessels are safer. ( This obligatory shift of single - hull vessels to double – hull had already been established in the United States by the OPA 90 legislation in response to the Exxon Valdez incident outside Alaska.

The IMO then put amendments to MARPOPL which obliged all new tanker vessels which are over 600 dwt to be with double hull. After the Erika accident the EU also adopted this regulation mentioned above. ( The new measures would be activated within eighteen months since the proposal of the first Erika package had been made. The European Union Member States should prepare to implement the measures as soon as possible and start to put in to action all the changes on legislative and administrative measures.

Erica II Package The second set of measures had as its purpose a safer maritime transportation in the European waters that would prevent much easier marine pollution and accidents at sea. Firstly, a Community would be formed that would be responsible for monitoring and controlling the maritime traffic putting together an information system with electronic data regarding the vessels themselves and the possible polluting goods that they may carry. The fact that 90% of the trade between European countries and third countries is seaborne makes the risk of a maritime accident much higher. The traffic in between the main seaways around Europe is very high.

Therefore the aim of the European Union is to monitor and control as much as possible the traffic of its coasts taking always the necessary reaction to preventing potential accidents. This will be achieved by: * Obliging all vessels that go through European waters to carry with them systems that make them automatically identifiable and easily monitored by all coastal authorities. * Using electronic data regarding the dangerous and hazardous cargo a vessel may carry creating databases that will be easily transmittable.

* Obliging all vessels to carry, as mentioned earlier, black boxes that record all voyage data making the investigation of maritime accidents much easier. * Giving more authority to Coastal States to act whenever they think its necessary to prevent accidents, and * Disallow vessels to departure from ports when the weather is bad enough that make the voyage unsafe. The second measure of the Erika II Package has to do with the compensation fund and liability for oil spills and pollution damage in EU waters.

The measures that existed before the Erika accident for compensating the people who had been affected by the oil spill of Erika vessel had proven to be insufficient. Several years after the accident many people hadn’t yet received the whole amount of compensation. That is why the commissions proposal was to increase the ‘’ceiling’’ in the amount of compensation given to the affected people, giving also the right to Member States to enforce fines for negligence to any liable party involved. The current maximum amount of compensation is depicted in the table bellow.


The last part of the second Erika package aims to the creation of a European maritime safety agency whose purpose would be to support the Commission and the Member States of EU to monitor and apply the legislations measuring at the same time the efficiency and success of maritime safety measures. The mission of this agency will be to make sure that the Member States are following all measures and regulations by collecting information, inspecting and evaluating the effectiveness of the Port State Control of each Member State. Erika III Package

These set of rules were intended to improve the already existing ones of the European legislation being more proactive. The efforts were concentrated on making the classification societies more strong with a new quality control structure. There would also be formation of new IMO rules that had to do with the responsibilities of the flag states which were mandatory for all member states of the EU. This process would be called Flag State Control. Moreover, the classification societies that would not follow the new rules and regulations would suffer sanctions. This package was accepted by the European Parliament in 2006. (

These three packages are clearly destined to prevent the risk of the occurrence of such accidents by imposing regulations that will make all parties involved with maritime transportation more organized, efficient, obliged to be better and most of all safer. ( Problems that arise

The Erika accident still remains the worst oil disaster for the wildlife that Europe has ever faced. When the tanker broke in two, the 12,000 tons of oil spilled killed more than 300,000 birds. Many fish and sea animals were found dead and French coasts had left with oil residues for many years. Many hundred thousand tones of sand were removed from the coast to remove and recover the oil. The economic damage was also important because of the effects the oil spill had on the tourism and fishing sectors, as trade of sea products was banned affecting directly the local populations. (

Another serious problem that came into publicity recently is that the Erica legal case, which still hasn’t finished, may be annulled. In other words, oil company Total may get away with impunity. The story behind this is that the public prosecutor stated that the legal case of Erika should be annulled because the incident happened outside French territorial waters and therefore France shouldn’t have the jurisdiction to hear it. Instead it should be the flag in which the vessel was registered, which in our case is Malta.

This decision, if made, would be catastrophic and as the former Minister of environment said that ‘’oil companies will have impunity and can do anything they like’’. It is indeed a decision that can change how things currently run. ( Evaluation of measures

The measures taken after the incident have significantly changed the shipping industry. All three packages have contributed to a safer marine environment with fewer accidents. Shipping companies nowadays are much more careful as far as safety is concerned. What I would like to stress is the fact that Total managed, with the use of very skillful and of course expensive lawyers, to postpone the case trial for many years ignoring the need of compensation of the victims who didn’t have such help from poorly paid lawyers. The law in such cases shouldn’t be bias and be more objective especially when human life is affected.