placed under investigation in Erika scandal
Friday, November 09, 2001
By Verena von Derschau, Associated Press
PARIS — An executive of the oil giant TotalFinaElf was placed
under investigation this week in connection with the 1999 sinking
of the oil tanker Erika, a judicial official said.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Eric Calonne,
manager of the company's crisis unit, should be prosecuted for
"maritime pollution, complicity in endangering the lives of
others, and refraining from taking steps to combat the accident,"
a judicial official told the Associated Press on condition of
Under French law, being placed under investigation is one step
short of being charged with a crime. Four other TotalFinaElf
managers are expected to be placed under investigation next week
in connection with the incident.
The Erika, a 25-year-old, single-hulled tanker registered in
Malta, broke in two on
Dec. 12, 1999, spilling 10,000 tons of oil that washed up on the
beaches of France's
The judicial action comes on the heels of a report released last
month by maritime
expert Henri Clouet that implicated the oil giant in the disaster.
chartered the tanker.
TotalFinaElf, which has promised to cooperate fully with the
investigation, said it
was outraged by the report's conclusions. The company insists it
has taken every
possible measure to assist in the cleanup and help restore the
Eight people, including the vessel's Indian captain, have already
been placed under
investigation in the case. The Italian company Registro Italiano
Navale (RINA), which
had inspected the vessel, was placed under investigation in
Copyright 2001, Associated Press
All Rights Reserved
TotalFinaElf head's chateau
FRANCE: December 12, 2001
PARIS - French protesters occupied a chateau owned by TotalFinaElf
Desmarest's family yesterday to press the oil giant to pay
compensation to victims of a chemical factory explosion and a 1999
A group representing victims of the September blast at
TotalFinaElf's AZF factory in Toulouse, southern France, and the
marine and coastal pollution caused by the sinking
of its oil tanker Erika in 1999, said they would not leave the
chateau southeast of Paris until the company paid up.
Around a dozen protesters, all claiming to have been affected by
the two incidents, walked into the chateau at around 0630 GMT
after the housekeeper left the main gate
and doors open, a spokesman for the group said.
"We have lost our businesses. I have lost two years of
business because of Erika," Alain
Malarde of the victims' group, the Toulouse and the Maritime
Confederation Collective, told Reuters by telephone from the
"We want Desmarest not only to take responsibility but to pay
us. We want 1 billion euros ($891.3 million) for Erika victims and
two billion euros for Toulouse."
Desmarest was not immediately available for comment but a
spokeswoman said he was aware of the situation.
Malarde said the protesters had removed glass from windows and
lifted doors off hinges at
the chateau to mimick the damage wrought by the explosion in
Toulouse to private homes and schools near the factory.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blast, which
killed 30 people and injured 2,500, destroyed hundreds of homes
and blew out windows in city centre
buildings. Many people are still living in temporary accomodation.
The factory was owned by Grande Paroisse , in which TotalFinaElf
has an 80 percent stake.
Separately, the French oil giant was placed under judicial
investigation in October over the
sinking of its oil tanker Erika off the northwestern French
Brittany coast in 1999.
Investigators say the probe is intended to ascertain whether
TotalFinaElf failed to take the
necessary action to avoid the accident and whether it could be
charged with complicity
in deliberate violation of safety rules.
It would also investigate allegations that TotalFinaElf did not do
enough to limit pollution after the tanker broke in two, spewing
out 15,000 tonnes of oil and harming marine and
Such a probe is a step short of formal charges but can end without
charges. TotalFinaElf rejects the accusations, saying it was not
told the ship was unsafe and cannot be held responsible.
But victims are in no doubt as to where the blame lies.
"Two years ago, Erika's oil polluted Brittany, less than
three months ago the AZF factory killed 30 people, injured 2,500,
destroyed the homes of hundreds of people. Two dramas,
one responsible: TotalFinaElf. The same attitude: denial of
responsibility," they said in a
Story by Emelia Sithole
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE