Intertanko protests high-bail ruling for captain in pollution case

The following is the text of a press release issued by Intertanko:
(LONDON) — In the case of Captain Mangouras of the Prestige v Kingdom of Spain, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has decided by a 10/7 majority that there has been no violation of Article 5 § 3 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights in setting bail at Euros 3m for the release of the captain of a ship which caused pollution.

INTERTANKO is horrified at the outrageous majority finding that it is legitimate to set bail at a ‘pirate’s ransom’ for a responsible ship’s master involved in accidental pollution. The potential for politically motivated decisions empowered by the level of public outcry is obvious, as are the fearful implications for every seafarer, who by this decision, loses his right to natural justice.

The ECHR says,

“New realities had to be taken into consideration in interpreting the requirements of Article 5 § 3, namely the growing and legitimate concern both in Europe and internationally in relation to environmental offences and the tendency to use criminal law as a means of enforcing the environmental obligations imposed by European and international law.â€

This is a terrifying conclusion for the maritime industry, suggesting that basic issues of liberty will be overridden by concerns over pollution. The ECHR goes on to say:

“Given the exceptional nature of the applicant’s case and the huge environmental damage caused by the marine pollution, which had seldom been seen on such a scale, it was hardly surprising that the judicial authorities should have adjusted the amount required by way of bail in line with the level of liability incurred, so as to ensure that those responsible had no incentive to evade justice and forfeit the security.â€

In this way, the majority judges lose themselves in the environmental disaster and its financial consequences. They overlook the fact that the case before them concerns the liberty of an ordinary man for whom bail should be set to reflect his actions not the consequences of his actions, and his personal means not those assumed of a third party.

Apostolos Ioannis Mangouras was the captain of the ship Prestige which in November 2002 broke up in the Bay of Biscay in a severe storm after being refused refuge in Spanish waters, releasing the 70,000 tonnes of fuel oil it was carrying into the sea, causing serious damage to the environment.

Faced with Spain’s refusal to give the ship refuge, Capt Mangouras courageously did everything he could to save his crew and his ship and its cargo and protect the environment by minimising pollution, ending up forced by the Spanish authorities against his better judgement to take the ship out to sea in a storm.

For these actions, described as ‘exemplary’ in the flag state’s investigation, he has been treated like a criminal.

He was jailed by the Spanish authorities for 83 days until the ship owner’s insurers voluntarily paid Euros 3m bail, a sum which was not justified by the Spanish authorities at any stage and could not bear any relation to his personal circumstances. Two years later, he was allowed to return to Greece only on condition that the Greek authorities enforced compliance with the periodic supervision to which he had been subject in Spain. Still today, he reports every two weeks to a police station. Only recently has the criminal court in Spain concluded its investigation and indicated it will bring criminal proceedings against Capt Mangouras. The criminal proceedings are still pending, with the enraged locals call for 9 a nine year jail sentence.
INTERTANKO concurs with the good sense of the 7 eminent dissenting judges for their robust and focused opinion, finding that Capt Mangouras’ rights were clearly violated by the Spanish. They find that the Spanish approach in setting bail at such an exhorbitant level ‘renders illusory the applicant ability to secure his release from custody’ recognising that bail should be set with reference to the accused and his assets’.

“It is simply unacceptable that ships’ officers, having committed no fault, be treated as common criminals because of the consequences of their actions, when the actions themselves are above reproach,†says INTERTANKO’s Managing Director Dr Peter Swift, continuing, “and in addition it is also completely unacceptable that they should now face being held to ransom as scapegoats for the environmental lobby. Had the P & I Club insurers not acted with compassion, Capt Mangouras, now 75, would likely still be in jail in Spain awaiting trial. Eight years on, can that be fair or just?â€

By Professional Mariner Staff