September 25, 2012 / 12:32 PM / 6 years ago

French court upholds Total conviction in Erika oil spill

View of a storage tank at the French oil giant Total refinery of Grandpuits, southeast of Paris, October 13, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s highest court upheld a conviction against oil giant Total on Tuesday over an 1999 oil spill, in a blow to the company which had hoped it would be absolved of blame for one of France’s worst environmental disasters.

The Cour de Cassation in Paris retained a 2008 ruling giving Total criminal responsibility over the spill of some 20,000 metric tonnes (22046 tons) of crude oil when the 24-year-old tanker Erika split apart in a storm off the northwest coast of France.

The court also ruled that Total, which has paid a 375,000 euro ($484,300) fine and nearly 400 million euros for the clean-up operation, had civil responsibility in the accident.

Lawyers for Total had hoped to overturn the ruling on the grounds the Italian-owned Erika was technically just outside French waters and flying a Maltese flag when it sank, limiting the applicability of French laws.

The lawyers had argued that convicting Total went against international conventions that place liability for accidents with ship owners rather than the companies chartering the vessels.

Reporting by Thierry Leveque.; Writing by Catherine Bremer. Editing by Jane Merriman

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