Court upholds 15-year jail term in Albion Two case
Heaviest sentence in Greek shipping history confirmed over the fatal sinking of the 1976-built bulker
November 3rd, 2016 18:00 GMT
Published in WEEKLY
A Piraeus appeals court has upheld the heaviest jail term in Greek shipping history, a 15-year sentence against London Greek Panagiotis A Lemos, 85.
He was tried in absentia over the fatal sinking of the 27,000-dwt bulker Albion Two (built 1976) almost 20 years ago.
All 25 crew drowned when the ship went down in heavy weather off the French coast in mid-February 1997 while carrying a cargo of steel products from Antwerp to the Caribbean. The vessel was not reported overdue until early March that year.
Lemos, who ran London-based Panagiotis A Lemos & Associates, had appealed against the 15-year term imposed by another Greek court two years ago, when he was found guilty of“disruption of safety in sea transportation”, a charge connected to maintenance of the seriously corroded ship.
The Piraeus appeal court dismissed Lemos’ request to overturn the original sentence. It also confirmed a decision to deprive him of his political rights in Greece until 2019. This in effect means that Lemos is likely to be arrested if he sets foot on Greek soil, said George Trantalides, a lawyer speaking on behalf of the families of some of the ship’s crew.
Lemos will appeal against the decision in Greece’s Supreme Court, his lawyer says.
“Mr Lemos opposes the ruling and will exhaust all legal means against it,” Kleomenis Papanikolaou told TradeWinds. “The regrettably significant number of casualties weighed more in the judges’ decision than the technical facts of the case.”
Trantalides told TradeWinds: “After 19 years of investigation, I managed to pin down the defendant’s enormous responsibilities. I never stopped fighting because the souls [of the lost sailors] needed vindication.”
Trantalides suffered a setback in 2003, when a manslaughter trial was dropped after the widow of the Greek second officer withdrew her accusation.
The Piraeus-based lawyer re-opened the case five years later by filing a new case under Greek safety legislation on behalf of the families of three Ukrainian victims.
Lemos is thought to have no assets, even though a civil court found him liable to pay EUR 4.9m ($5.4m) in compensation about five years ago.
“He hasn’t paid a single euro,” Trantalides said, adding that the ship was “rotten” and could only be described as a “floating coffin”.
“It broke in three parts and sank violently and rapidly,” he said.
The fact it was also carrying dangerous calcium carbonate increased Lemos’ responsibility, the lawyer adds.
The Albion Two had undergone repairs costing more than $700,000 at Western India Shipyard in 1996 and passed an American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) enhanced survey under a port-state control inspection at Gdynia, Poland.
A surveyor’s report on the sinking blamed serious corrosion problems and minimum maintenance by the owner.
“It is clearly evident from the documents produced that the Albion Two was affected by very serious corrosion problems, whereas the last owners restricted the ship’s maintenance to the strict minimums — minimum steel renewal based on a minimum of measurements of the important ship’s structures,” the report said.
Lemos had told TradeWinds after the accident: “It’s a tragedy. In the beginning, I thought the radio was damaged or the radio operator was sick. We have known the crew for a long, long time, which increases the tragedy for us.”