On 13 November 2013 the Audiencia Provincial (Criminal Court) in La Coruña issued its judgement on the Prestige incident which occurred off northern Spain in 2002. The judgement followed an oral hearing which commenced in October 2012 and continued until July 2013.
In the 177-page judgement, the Court found the master, the Chief Engineer of the Prestige and the civil servant who had been involved in the decision not to allow the ship into a place of refuge in Spain, not criminally liable for damages to the environment. The master was convicted of disobeying the Spanish authorities during the crisis and sentenced to nine months in prison. He will however not need to serve any time in prison since he had already served a period under detention.
As regards the damages arising out of the incident, the Criminal Court can only declare civil liability when there has been a criminal offence. In the case of the Prestige, the only criminal offence was the disobedience of the master. However, since this was not the cause of the damage, the Court could not judge on any civil liability arising from the damage.
On the subject of the limitation fund established by the London Club, totalling some €22 million, the Court decided that the fund was at the Club’s disposal for the Club to decide on its distribution, subject to any appeal by the affected parties. A number of parties have announced their intention to appeal against the judgement before the Supreme Court.
The 1992 Fund has been a party to the proceedings from the beginning, as a party with strict civil liability under the 1992 Fund Convention. The decisions of the Criminal Court do not alter the position of the 1992 Fund, which is liable to compensate pollution damage under the 1992 Fund Convention, just as the shipowner is liable on the same concept under the 1992 Civil Liability Convention.
General information regarding the Prestige incident can be found under the incidents section and the full text of the judgement by the Criminal Court is available in Spanish here.