The oil tanker “Prestige” sunk off the coast of northern Spain in 2002, after being denied safe harbour during a storm. It broke in half, resulting in widespread contamination of the French and Spanish coastline. This led to legal action against the vessel owner and its insurer, the London Club, in respect of clean up costs, brought by the French and Spanish governments. The total cost of the damage is estimated to be over €4.4bn.

The ensuing litigation has thrown up a myriad of complex cross-border legal issues. A recent decision by a Spanish court, however, has deepened concerns in the London market regarding inconsistent decisions as between the courts of different European jurisdictions. This is because the Spanish court’s decision, holding the London Club liable to pay £760m, comes in the wake of a 2015 English Court of Appeal ruling that the claims against the London Club were subject to English law and London arbitration. In a matter of this gravity and political sensitivity the forum is of considerable importance to all the parties concerned.

The London Club has indicated its concern about the direction that the Spanish court has taken generally, but it remains to be seen where and how the conflict between the English courts and the Spanish courts will be resolved.

Further details can be found on the London Club’s website:https://www.steamshipmutual.com/publications/Articles/theprestigecoadecision.htm