Spanish Court Imposed $1bn Fine on British Insurer Over Massive Prestige Oil Spill

Photo by: Stéphane M. Grueso

A British insurer is facing a fine amounting to $1bn (£760m) that was imposed by a Spanish court for the insurer’s role in one of the worst ever environmental disasters in Europe fifteen years ago.

In 2002, Prestige, an oil tanker, sunk off the coast of northern Spain after splitting in half, polluting thousands of miles of beach and causing extensive damage to the fishing industry and wildlife.

On Wednesday, a Spanish court said that the state should receive €1.6bn ($1.9bn) in damages for the spill, with the region of Galicia paid €1.8bn for the destruction that was caused and France with €61m.

The court said that the Mutual Insurance Association of The London Steam-Ship Owners, also known as the London Club, insured the sunken ship and will be forced to pay up to a maximum of $1bn, with the captain of the ship facing a similar bill.

Mare Shipping, the ship owner, is anticipated to pay the rest along with the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds, two intergovernmental organisations which implement compensation for the damage of oil pollution.

A spokesperson for The London Club said that the firm was informed of the judgment and that the company “remains concerned at the direction that the Spanish court has taken generally.”

The spokesperson pointed to a judgment with the Court of Appeal of the United Kingdom in 2015 in which the London Club disputed that claims should fall under English law and the arbitration of London.

“There are several complicated and outstanding legal issues that need to be addressed,” said the spokesperson.

The estimated total cost of the damage that has been caused is more than €4.4bn, with 22,000 dead birds discovered in the immediate aftermath of the said incident.