Oil spill group fights claimants' corner

LAWYERS from Swansea to Pembrokeshire are signing up to join a new group in an effort to get clients a share of the compensation available after the Sea Empress oil spillage.

The potential claimants who suffered loss and damage from the massive oil spill range from fishermen to leisure industry businesses. Any payments will come out of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, which runs into many millions of pounds.

No liability has to be established for setting up the fund, which was also used for the Braer disaster three years ago.

Nearly 20 firms have come together to form the Sea Empress Solicitor's Group (unlike the Braer Disaster Group's solicitors, these member solicitors say they prefer not to use the word 'disaster').

Steering group secretary George Allingham, of RTP Williams & Llewellin in Haverfordwest, said claimants ranged from individual fishermen who worked off the Welsh coast to the organisers of an international angling competition which had to be cancelled.

Lawyers acting for claimants charge on a normal hourly basis or, if the case is more complex, they are paid by the fund.

Allingham, who is also secretary of Pembrokeshire Law Society, said the collection of solicitors and clients constituted a group action and, although there was nothing contentious about the claims to date, the member firms would be at hand if “there was some fundamental point we felt was worth taking forward”.

Glasgow solicitor Peter Watson, secretary of the Braer Disaster Group, is advising the Empress group.

Hull firm Andrew M Jackson & Co has won £1.5 million compensation for four Shetland salmon farmers hit by the Braer disaster. The firm was hired by the farmers' insurer Sunderland Marine Mutual Insurance Company. Silas Taylor, head of the firm's admiralty and shipping department, said: “Sunderland Marine was not liable to compensate the farmers because the salmon did not die as a direct result of the pollution. As a goodwill gesture, however, the company employed us to represent the fish farmers in claims against the Oil Pollution Compensation Fund.”