We call them Flags of Convenience for a reason. And that reason was on full display in a Vancouver courtroom this week when a Greek shipping firm accused of spewing thousands of litres of bunker fuel into English Bay sailed conveniently away from any potential legal responsibility.
In 2015, the Cyprus-flagged MV Marathassa spilled 2,700 litres of bunker into Canada’s busiest port. For three days, the captain of the Marathassa denied that his ship was leaking. But the oil was fingerprinted and the vessel was identified as the source. Charges were laid against the Greek shipping firm Alassia NewShips Management Inc. The 10 charges included alleged violations under the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environment Protection Act.
This being the shadowy world of shipping, Alassia initially argued that it hadn’t been properly notified about the proceedings, but the courts ruled that the summons was successfully delivered on two occasions, to the company’s lawyer and to the captain of another vessel operated by Alassia, while that vessel was in Nanaimo. The provincial court ruled that the captain was qualified as a company representative.
This week, the BC Court of Appeal ruled that he wasn’t, and that the Greek firm hadn’t been served properly — which means the trial is over unless a new summons is served.
This is what it comes to in this system: Canada can’t even manage a prosecution for a simple spill, which may have been accidental, and that was covered by insurance. The government, keen to build pipelines to export our resources, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on an Oceans Protection Plan to assure the public that the resulting increase in tanker traffic is nothing to fear. The government fronts for Big Oil and demands the public accept its comforting words — but in practice can’t prosecute spills when they occur.
It’s all too maddening.
We’ll keep you posted if the Crown decides to pursue another summons application.
Meantime, we cannot say it often enough: The shadowy Flag of Convenience system works for no one. Not for the seafarers cheated and abused by shady owners crouched safely behind their corporate veil. Not for a shipping industry falling increasingly into public disrepute. And not for a country hoping to get its resources to market. Until lines of ownership and responsibility are made transparent and shipping companies are forced to answer for their operations, the madness will continue.
(Here’s the news story about this week’s court case for those international readers unable to open the link above:
Trial halted against Greek company accused of operating MV Marathassa – The Globe and Mail )