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France requests Swiss judicial help in Erika oil spill case

France wants Swiss help to identify those responsible for the December 1999 Erika oil spill Keystone

A French judge investigating one of Europe's most serious oil spills has asked canton Ticino's judicial authorities for assistance. The hunt for those responsible for the December 1999 disaster has focused on Amarship, a naval brokerage company based in Lugano.

Judge Dominique de Talancé is currently trying to determine the real proprietor of the tanker Erika, which sank in bad weather off the coast of Brittany, setting off a major ecological disaster. The tanker was transporting oil for France’s TotalFina.

According to the French newspaper Le Parisien, judge Talancé suspects the CEO of Amarship, canton Zug resident Peter Bucheli, of being the real owner of the Erika. A cheque from TotalFina for the use of the Erika was deposited in Amarship’s account.

But the accusation that the company owned the tanker was firmly denied by Amarship manager Alessandro Ducci on Tuesday.

Ducci told correspondents that Amarship was simply a middleman in the case. The company’s role was limited to putting TotalFina in touch with the tanker’s real owner, who Ducci said was the Italian, Giuseppe Savarese.

Savarese has already been charged along with nine other people in connection with the case. Savarese is to be tried for “marine pollution and endangering the life of others”.

The spill of around 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel is estimated to have caused damage worth the equivalent of SFr1.5 billion. The clean-up operation continues.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR