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ERIKA Shipwreck and Oil Spill , Britanny, France

Erika's oil spill disaster hit the French coast in 1999, spilling 20,000 tons of crude oil, killing many thousands of sea birds and soiling 400km of coastline. This was one major ecological disaster in France.


The Erika was a Maltese-flagged oil tanker (flag of convenience) built in 1975 and chartered by Total, which sank on 12 December 1999 off Brittany, during a transport of 30 884 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. from Dunkirk to Livorno (Italy). Some cracks appeared in the evening, the ship wanted to shelter in Donges. But the captaincy of Saint-Nazaire refused, because the boat lost its fuel oil: with the current on the Loire, it was not possible to erect a floating dam. The Erika ended up breaking up the next day, at 8 o'clock. The 26 crew members were hoisted, while the tanker was cut through the middle. Part of the load of fuel oil remained trapped in the tanks and would be pumped, but  about 20,000 tons sailed in slimy layers, reaching the coast as early as 23 December. It is from the Christmas day and the following ones, because of the storm, the black tablecloths stained perhaps 200 km of the littoral.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:ERIKA Shipwreck and Oil Spill , Britanny, France
State or province:Britanny
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Wetlands and coastal zone management
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The ship was transporting 30 884 tons of heavy fuel oil from Dunkerque to Livorno. There were 18 000 tons lost in the ocean.

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project222,648,144
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:from 400,000 to 500,000
Start of the conflict:12/1999
End of the conflict:25/09/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Total from France
Relevant government actors:French State
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- The birds league protection
Robin Woods association
- Greenpeace,
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of alternative proposals
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Referendum other local consultations
Property damage/arson
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Boycotts of companies-products
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Soil contamination
Potential: Air pollution, Genetic contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Global warming, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil erosion
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:All toxic wastes has been removed. Furthermore, French coast has recovered fully. But on the another hand, Britany suffered this disaster which could just never happened.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Ministère de la justice
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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Erika : les premiers bilans des impacts morphologiques dus aux techniques de nettoyage, Paul Fattal, Bernard Fichaut, 2002
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INRA, Modifié le 04/05/2016
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"Erika" : la Cour de cassation confirme la condamnation de Total
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Erika: La cour de cassation confirme la condamnation de Total, Reuters, modifié le 12/09/2014
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Erika: « soulagement de Greenpeace, Unknown, publié le 25/09/2012
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Erika: « soulagement de Greenpeace, publié le 25/09/2012
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Ministère de la Justice
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Erika : les premiers bilans des impacts morphologiques dus aux techniques de nettoyage, Paul Fattal, Bernard Fichaut, 2002
[click to view]

Safety for Sea (2018). Learn from the past: Erika oil spill, Europe’s environmental disaster. Retrieved 22.12.19
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The Guardian (2008) Erika oil spill 1999. Retrieved 22.12.19
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Reuters (2012) French court upholds Total conviction in Erika oil spill. Retrieved 22.12.19
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(1) Le Monde
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(1) Le Monde . "Erika" : une victoire fragile pour le délit d'atteinte à l'environnement. Certains juristes se montrent circonspects sur la décision de la Cour de cassation. Par Martine Valo. 26 septembre 2012.
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

La catastrophe de l'Erika, symbole des dégâts de la mondialisation, euronews
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La catastrophe de l'Erika, symbole des dégâts de la mondialisation, Euronews
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Eva Joly, Le Monde (aticle explaining the success of the criminal case against Total).
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Eva Joly, Le Monde 27 Sept 2012 (article explaining the success of the criminal case against Total). Erika coulé, Total touché

Eva Joly. Députée européenne EELV. Eva Joly, ancienne juge d'instruction et ancienne candidate d'Europe Ecologie-Les Verts à la présidentielle. La reconnaissance du préjudice écologique par la Cour de cassation signe "la victoire du réalisme sur l'artifice, de la justice sur les fictions des paradis fiscaux et des pavillons de complaisance", affirme Eva Joly."
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Meta information
Contributor:Camille Merlet, ESSCA, [email protected], Nicolas Beaudoux, ESSCA, [email protected], Gabriel Weber, ESSCA, [email protected]
Last update23/12/2019
Conflict ID:4829
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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