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DEGASSING OF AN ITALIAN SHIP (FLORENCIA) POLLUTING MARINE WATER OF 27 KILOMETRES LONG AND 30 METRES WIDE
SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION
On December 8, 2010, at 9:30 am, a customs maritime surveillance helicopter observed pollution on the sea surface in the wake of the Italian ro-ro ship Le Florencia, 27 kilometres long and 30 metres wide. The expert report concludes that an oil spill has occurred. Having refused to divert to the port of Toulon, the Florencia continues its journey to Livorno (Italy). The ship's captain and the shipowner deny any responsibility for this pollution.
Surfrider Foundation Europe has filed a civil suit to ensure that this degassing will not go unpunished. These actions are clearly in line with the status of the association, which aims to protect and enhance the oceans, waves and coastline.
The Marseille Criminal Court first examined the case on 7 December 2011. However, Article 228 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (which stipulates that within 6 months of the offence, the flag State may request to try the offence itself to the detriment of the coastal State affected by the pollution) was raised by the opposing party, thus postponing the trial to a later date, or to a consideration of the case by the flag State. This technique, which is increasingly used by shipowners and captains, allows them to escape French justice (one of the most repressive in terms of voluntary pollution). In most cases, offences tried in the flag State are punished by smaller fines and therefore have little deterrent effect. This is the best case since many cases of deliberate pollution involve flags of convenience.)
The postponement was initially set for 5 December 2012, November 2013 and 4 September 2014. Indeed, the French court was waiting for the decision of its Italian counterpart and the end of the exchanges between the French and Italian chancery. The Italian court found that the defendants had been released. The acquittal pronounced by the Italian judges is based on a free interpretation of the Montego Bay Convention, a text governing the law of the sea. The decision of the Italian court is therefore binding on the French State without respect for the contradictory. When cases involve European flags, a large part of diplomatic relations comes into play. It is very difficult to assert the rights of the polluted State without offending the flag State. Florencia is, therefore, continuing its journey without being concerned about its unscrupulous behaviour towards the environment.