Oil executive 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 anonymity.

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
Atlantic coast.

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. TotalFinalElf
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 coastline.

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 October 2000.

Copyright 2001, Associated Press
All Rights Reserved

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Protesters occupy TotalFinaElf head's chateau


FRANCE: December 12, 2001

PARIS - French protesters occupied a chateau owned by TotalFinaElf Chairman Thierry
Desmarest's family yesterday to press the oil giant to pay compensation to victims of a chemical factory explosion and a 1999 oil spill.

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 chateau.

"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.

JUDICIAL INVESTIGATION

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
sealife.

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
statement.

Story by Emelia Sithole

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE