Recent spills in Europe


On 11 April 1991, the Cypriot oil tanker the Haven, anchored off the coast of Genoa (Italy), was loaded with 144,000 tonnes of crude oil when she caught fire, exploded and broke in three. One of the parts sank on the spot, the others sank during towing. Despite considerable response operations at sea, oil slicks drifted westwards, thus hitting various parts of the Ligurian coast and finally reaching the French Riviera impacting as far as Hyères.

The Haven incident raised a number of fundamental questions on ecological damage and the restoration of the affected seabed, within the framework of a national law on the compensation of environmental damages.

The Haven on fire (Italy)

Sea Empress

On 15 February 1996, the Liberian oil tanker the Sea Empress, loaded with 130,000 tonnes of crude oil, grounded on rocks at the entrance to Milford Haven port (Wales, Great Britain). The vessel could only be freed five days later, after having lost more than half of her cargo. Despite the application of dispersant and the mobilisation of six sea response vessels, the pollution affected more than 100 kilometres of coastline. Fishing was banned for several months in the surrounding area. Following this incident, the question of compensation raised major issues relating to indirect economic damages.




On 12 December 1999, the Maltese tanker the Erika was caught in a storm and broke in two off the coast of Brittany (France), with 31,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil onboard. Nearly 20,000 tonnes polluted over 400 km of French coastline, with significant consequences for the fishing and tourist industries. The fuel which remained imprisoned within the wreck was pumped out in the summer of 2000. Thousands of compensation claims were lodged by individuals, companies, local communities and the French State.

The accident brought to light the limitations of the French pollution response organisation when confronted with such extensive pollution and insufficient international compensation funds. This led to the limits of existing international compensation arrangements being substantially increased, and to the establishment of a supplementary fund (third tier fund).

Wrecking of the Erika (Brittany, France)


On 13 November 2002, the Bahamian oil tanker the Prestige, en route for Singapore carrying 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, requested assistance due to damage to her hull, off the coast of Cape Finisterre (Galicia, Spain). The crew was air-lifted to safety and the vessel was taken in tow. After 6 days of towing in search of a port of refuge, the vessel broke in two and sank in 3,500 m deep waters. Over 60,000 tonnes of fuel drifted at sea. Unprecedented response operations suceeded in recovering a third of this fuel at sea.

During the following weeks, the remaining fuel polluted more than 1,000 km of Spanish and later French coastline, triggering the largest response operation ever seen in Europe. Despite efforts to seal the wreck, the seeping continued, forcing the Spanish authorities in the summer of 2004 to organise and carry out a pumping operation on the wreck, 3,500 m below the water surface, a technological first.