On 18 March 2014, the French government enacted a Decree in relation to the civil liabilities of shipowners for damages resulting from oil pollution. This Decree defines the procedure for establishing a fund in order to limit liability in respect of victims of an oil spill.

The CLC 1969/1992 Convention, which establishes the principle of strict liability of the owner of a vessel carrying a cargo of oil in case of pollution damage, sets out owners’ entitlement to limit their liability, provided they establish a fund. The Convention allows States to define the conditions for the establishment of the fund. Despite having ratified the Convention in 1976, France had never issued legislation specifying precisely how funds were to be constituted and distributed.

In the absence of specific provisions on this issue, when the shipowner of AMOCO CADIZ wanted to establish a fund in 1981, the French courts were inclined to follow the procedure laid down in Decree No. 67-967 dated 27 October 1967, relating to the limitation of liability for maritime claims. The Cour d’appel of Rennes, approved by the Cour de Cassation, dismissed the judgment of the first instance Commercial Court of Brest, considering that the procedure of the 1967 Decree could not apply to the limitation of liability of an oil tanker owner for pollution damage. It was therefore necessary to apply the common law procedure (jurisdiction of the Commercial Court and not that of the President, ad hoc administrator, etc.).

Going forward, the new Decree creates a procedure for the constitution and distribution of the fund for damage caused by oil pollution which is very similar to that specified in the 1967 Decree, apart from some differences particular to the CLC regime (time limits for appeals, and the possibility for indemnities by the IOPC Fund). This Decree should in principle be incorporated into the French Code of Transports once the regulatory part is published, as was the 1967 Decree.

To read the French Decree No. 2014-348, dated 18 March 2014 on the civil liabilities of shipowners for damages resulting from oil pollution, click here.