Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

Galapagos National Park Service Press Release on Cvil lawsuit filed for punitive damages

News and Press Release
Originally published
Oficio N° 263-01 PNG-DIR

Dear Friends and Supporters:

As you know, this past January 16th, the Galapagos Islands suffered an important ecological impact as a result of the grounding of the M/T Jessica and consequentially its fuel spillage in the waters surrounding the archipelago.

In the interests of the province of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park has presented a civil lawsuit for punitive damages against the company who built the tanker, Petrocomercial, (the Ecuadorian government's entity responsible for transporting hydrocarbons within Ecuadorian territory), the captain of the vessel, and Terra Nova Insurance Co., Ltd., who issued an insurance policy for the M/T Jessica covering third party damages in the event of a fuel spill.

Terra Nova Insurance Co., with its headquarters located at Terra Nova House 4143, Mincing Lane, London EC3R7SP, Great Britain, and whose Managing Director for this case is Mr. Malcolm Warrington, has unofficially declared, without having yet participated in the process initiated against it, that it will not pay what is owed on the policy because the policy had been cancelled for lack of premium payment. This point has not been proven and the attitude Terra Nova Insurance Co., has adopted in relation to this ecological disaster has been non-friendly and closed off to dialogue. Considering the worldwide importance of these events and what they represent, we believe all the parties involved should deal with this issue with an objective attitude.

In consideration of the above mentioned situation, we ask for your support by voicing your opinion on these issues to the international environmentalist community, and hope you will join us in our campaign against the hostile attitude Terra Nova Insurance Co. has adopted up until now. Following you will find an informative bulletin detailing this issue.

Thank you for your kind attention to this very important matter.

Best regards,

Eliécer Cruz B.


On February 8, 2001, the Galapagos National Park (GNP) represented by its Director, Eliécer Cruz, filed a lawsuit before the President of the High Court of Guayaquil, Ecuador for punitive damages against the people responsible for the incident of the M/T "Jessica" in the Galapagos Islands occurred on January 16, 2001, and the consequent fuel spill that the said incident caused.

The suit was filed before the President of the High Court of Guayaquil due to specific regulation of Ecuadorian environmental law, which declares this authority competent to preside over this kind of civil action suit for environmental damages. The plaintiff's lawsuit states that although the resulting damages from the incident are still being calculated, the total amount will not be less than $14,000,000 USD (fourteen million dollars).

The Galapagos National Park's lawsuit has been issued against the following persons: Acotramar C.A., owner of the ship M/T "Jessica", because of its position as owner and agent of the vessel; Mr. Tarquino Arévalo Escandón, captain of the tanker, because of his negligence as commander of the ship on the day of the incident; Petrocomercial (property of the Ecuadorian government and responsible for the transport and commercialization of petroleum and its derivatives), because it has the legal obligation of taking all precautionary measures to assure the correct and safe transportation of fuel within Ecuadorian territory, regardless of having an agreement with a third party stating that the third party assumes all responsibility for a possible incident during the transportation of fuel.

Additionally, and in keeping with what has previously been established in the International Agreement on Civil Responsibility for the damages caused by hydrocarbon contamination of sea waters (1969), the Galapagos National Park has filed a lawsuit against Terra Nova Insurance Co. Ltd., a highly prestigious insurance company based in London, England, who had an active insurance policy that covered the risk of fuel spillage for the M/T "Jessica" (property of Acotramar), and the damages to third parties that could occur as a consequence of said spill. In accordance with a certificate issued by the Ecuadorian Maritime Authorities, the before mentioned insurance policy is effective through the end of March 2001. This certificate has been presented at the civil trial initiated by the Galapagos National Park.

On this last point, it is important to emphasize that Terra Nova Insurance Company claims that the policy was no longer in effect and had been canceled due to lack of premium payment. This information is not official and furthermore it was Terra Nova's obligation to notify the Ecuadorian government of this supposed cancellation, which they failed to do.

The President of the Superior Court of Guayaquil, Ecuador, has allowed this suit to be reviewed by the Court and has ordered the subpoena of each of the defendants, including the exhortation to the government of Great Britain in order to subpoena Terra Nova Insurance Company Ltd.

This is the first and only civil suit for environmental punitive damages issued by the Galapagos National Park in relation to the M/T "Jessica" fuel spill incident on January 16, 2001. Until this date there have been only criminal processes initiated against the parties implicated in this case.