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DEGASSING OF A PANAMANIAN SHIP (BUKET) 7 NAUTICAL MILES FROM THE ISLANDS OF THE EAST, CREATING MARITIME POLLUTION BY HARMFUL SUBSTANCES
SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION
On 3 February 2008 at 10:20 a.m., a Falcon 50 M aircraft from the Lann Bihoué aeronautical base, which is engaged in anti-surface operations in the Mediterranean, spotted pollution on the sea surface over a length of eight nautical miles and a width varying from 50 to 100 metres in the wake of the Panamanian flagged tanker BUKET. The Buket came from Genoa (Italy) and was destined for Barcelona (Spain). It was then 7 nautical miles from the Levant Islands, in French territorial waters.
The substance illegally released was olive oil. This substance is considered harmful according to Annex II of the MARPOL Convention (see above).
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.
Surfrider Foundation Europe has filed a civil claim. The Buket trial was held on 9 May 2012. The Marseille Criminal Court sentenced the ship's captain to a fine of €50,000 and the shipping company Densa Tanker to a fine of €100,000.
The master and the shipowner appealed against the decision. The Prosecutor and the civil parties appealed to cross-appeal. At the hearing on 10 December 2013, a legal difficulty was raised by the opposing party and by the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence: at the time of the events (2008), the revision of the MARPOL Convention classifying olive oil in category Y had not yet been published in the Official Journal. It was therefore not applicable in the present case, so the prevention should have been aimed at the fact that olive oil falls under category D, which includes substances that are'slightly harmful to the environment'.
On 25 February 2014, the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence sentenced the captain and owner of the BUKET to a fine of €60,000 (€20,000 for the captain, of which €10,000 was borne by the shipowner, and €40,000 for the owner).
The opposing party has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. Before the hearing, the opposing party raised two priority constitutionality questions by which they asked to refer the matter to the Constitutional Council to ensure that Article 218-11 of the Environmental Code is in conformity with the Constitution. The Court of Cassation refused to forward their request to the Constitutional Council. Indeed, the High Court has no jurisdiction to examine the compatibility of law with France's international commitments (in this case the MARPOL Convention)
On 5 May 2015, the Court of Cassation declared that the judgment of the Court of Appeal was in order in its form and therefore dismissed the appeal.
The decision of the highest French court marks the end of the legal marathon of the Captain and the owner of the Buket. The case is definitely won.