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BBC Wales's Owen Jenkins reports
"Friends of the Earth say the court's decision has sent out the wrong message"
 real 28k

The BBC's Wyre Davies
"The name Sea Empress is synonymous with one of the biggest oil spills in Britain"
 real 28k

Friends of the Earth's Peter Roderick
"It really gives the wrong message to business and industry about how important environmental laws are."
 real 28k

Friday, 17 March, 2000, 08:19 GMT
Watchdog condemns oil spill fine cut
Sea Empress
The Sea Empress ran aground in the mouth of Milford Haven
Friends of the Earth have strongly criticised a Court of Appeal decision to slash a record 4m fine imposed on the Milford Haven Port Authority for the Sea Empress oil disaster.

Reducing the fine to 750,000, three judges had heard that the original fine was putting the economic future of the port at risk.



We are very pleased that the judges gave serious consideration to the points we made and this is a much better result for us.

Ted Sangster, Milford Haven Port Authority
Friends of the Earth legal advisor Peter Roderick joined earlier condemnation by the Environment Agency, claiming the ruling sent out the wrong message.

"It shows it is okay to be going around the world, spilling your loads and trashing your environment and then you can get off as lightly as this," said Mr Roderick.

More than 72,000 tonnes of crude oil were spilt at the entrance to Milford Haven estuary after the tanker ran aground in February 1996, in the wake of a navigational error by an inexperienced port authority pilot.


Sea bird caught in oil slick
The disaster contaminated 160 miles of coastline
The environmental disaster contaminated 120 miles of Welsh coastline which led to a 60m clean-up operation.

Lord Bingham said in judgement that the Court of Appeal fully appreciated the trial judge's reasons for regarding the spillage as a very serious case calling for a substantial penalty.

But the judge had failed to give full credit to the authority's plea of guilty and had also failed to consider the possible impact of the 4m fine on the authority's ability to perform its public functions.

"We also conclude that he took much too rosy a view of the financial position and prospects of the authority," he said.

In all the circumstances, he concluded, the fine was "manifestly excessive".


Port authority managing director Ted Sangster
Port authority managing director Ted Sangster
He added that the fine had to recognise the seriousness of the disaster but not enough to "cripple" the authority's business or hamper Pembrokeshire's economy.

Managing director of Milford Haven Port Authority Ted Sangster said: "We are very pleased that the judges gave serious consideration to the points we made and this is a much better result for us.

"The fine is one which we can now pay without threatening the long-term future of the business."

He said that the only way they could raise money to pay the fine was from customers and the original amount would have resulted in reduced investment.

"This would have threatened new jobs and could impact on some of our core business."

But the Environment Agency says it was "dismayed" by the court's decision.

"This is extremely bad news," said the agency's chairman Sir John Harman.

"This fine in no way compares to the very serious environmental impact that resulted from the Sea Empress incident. The environment has borne the ultimate loss."

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