Skip to main content

Captain acquitted of central charge 11 years after massive oil spill

By Al Goodman, CNN
updated 5:51 PM EST, Wed November 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The court did not assign any damages
  • An appeal in the case is possible
  • Tanker captain is acquitted of environmental crime; 2 others acquitted altogether
  • The massive 2002 oil spill blackened hundreds of miles of coastline in Spain and France

Madrid (CNN) -- An oil tanker captain was acquitted Wednesday of the central charge in what's widely considered Spain's worst environmental disaster -- a spill that blackened hundreds of miles of coastline.

Apostolos Mangouras, who was captain of the Prestige during the accident in 2002, was found not guilty of environmental crime.

He was, however, convicted on a lesser charge of disobeying orders from Spanish officials who tried to save the ship.

Mangouras was sentenced to nine months in jail. But Spanish legal experts said prison time is unlikely for someone sentenced to less than two years who has no prior criminal record.

If he had been convicted of environmental crime, he could have faced up to 12 years in prison.

Another Greek officer on the ship, Nikolaos Argyropoulos, was acquitted altogether. So was Jose Luis Lopez-Sors, former director general of Spain's Merchant Marine Department, the only Spanish government official charged in the case.

2012: Trial in Spain oil spill

The three were not in court for the verdict.

The court ruled that a precise cause for the accident could not be established, so criminal responsibility could not be determined.

"No one knows with certainty what could be the cause of what happened, nor what should have been the appropriate response to the emergency situation created by the serious problem of the Prestige," the verdict reads. "But no one can deny the structural problem, nor could they show during the trial where that problem occurred exactly or why."

The group Nunca Mais, whose name means "never again," said it was studying the 263-page ruling. The group includes citizens and organizations that helped clean up the spill and served as a kind of class-action plaintiff in the case.

Pedro Trepat, attorney for Nunca Mais, called parts of the ruling "strange."

An appeal to Spain's Supreme Court is possible.

'Coast of Death'

The Prestige issued an alarm on November 13, 2002, during a storm with gale-force winds off northwest Spain in an area known as the Coast of Death, famous for numerous shipwrecks.

The ship reported it had a gash in its single hull and some of its cargo of 70,000 tons of fuel oil had started gushing out.

Spanish authorities soon ordered the stricken ship to move farther off the coast. It struggled for days but on November 19, at 8 in the morning and about 145 nautical miles off the coast, it split in two and sank.

Oil continued to leak from it, at the bottom of the Atlantic, in the ensuing days.

Much of this oil, described by some as having the sticky consistency of chewing gum, blackened hundreds of miles of coastline in Spain and neighboring France.

It was an ecological disaster, with dead and oil-laden birds as a painful reminder.

It was also an economic disaster for Spain's vital fishing industry, which was brought to a standstill for months over health concerns.

In 2003, the cost was estimated at about $5.7 billion.

But the court Wednesday did not assign damages to be paid because the defendants were acquitted of the principal charge of an environmental crime, which carried the potential for payments of damages, Trepat said.

CNN's Josh Levs contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT