A court on Wednesday acquitted the three individuals charged in connection with the 2002 sinking of the tanker Prestige, Spain’s worst environmental disaster, and ruled that the government was not responsible for paying damages.
Apostolos Mangouras, the ship’s captain, was acquitted of the most serious charges against him but will have to serve nine months for contempt of court.
Chief machinist Nikolaos Argyropoulos and former Merchant Marine director Jose Luis Lopez Sors were the other two defendants acquitted.
Lopez Sors’s acquittal means that the Spanish government does not bear responsibility for the spill, with the court finding that it did not cause the environmental disaster and tried to prevent material damages and harm to humans.
The Prestige was carrying 77,000 tons of fuel oil in its tanks when it sprang a leak on Nov. 13, 2002, off the coast of the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia.
Officials in Spain denied the damaged vessel permission to dock and less than a week later, on Nov. 19, the tanker broke in half and sank to a depth of some 4,000 meters (13,000 feet).
The Bahamian-flagged tanker, lying in waters about 246 kilometers (153 miles) from Cape Finisterre, the westernmost point in Europe, spilled thousands of tons of fuel into the sea, polluting the Spanish, Portuguese and French coastlines.
The spill prompted the European Union to ban single-hulled vessels - like the Prestige - from its ports
The acquittals were criticized extensively on social-networking sites on Wednesday, with people expressing disappointment in the case’s outcome.