The Maltese-flagged oil tanker ERIKA broke apart off the west coast of France and severely polluted the French coastline in December 1999.

Alongside others, the French State sued the Italian classification society RINA, which had certified the ship both privately on behalf of the shipowner and statutorily on behalf of Malta, for damages caused by the oil pollution, arguing that the pollution was caused by RINA’s negligent certification activities.

The cause of the incident was examined by experts, appointed to investigate the matter by the French Courts. They concluded that the fate of the ERIKA was the inevitable consequence of the serious corrosion of the internal structures of the ship’s No2 ballast tanks, which resulted in their collapse.

The experts stated that the level of corrosion was well beyond acceptable standards for a classification society and that RINA should have been able to detect the level of corrosion when undertaking its surveys in 1999.

The French courts, including the French Court of Cassation, found RINA liable for negligent certification. RINA and the other defendants were held jointly and severally liable for the damages that had occurred.

The overall damages arising out of the casualty had been approximately assessed in the region of €500m.

RINA paid €35.8m to the civil claimants according to the judgement of the Court of Appeal.

A global settlement was reached in 2011 between the IOPC Fund, Steamship Mutual (acting on its own behalf as P&I Club and also on behalf of the ship owner’s interests), RINA and Total (an oil company engaged as a contractor to deal with the disposal of the recovered waste in respect of the Erika incident).

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