OOCL faces French court over executive's death

Shipping company OOCL faces manslaughter charges in France over executive's fatal fall

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 4:20am

Orient Overseas Container Lines, the Tung-family controlled shipping company, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter by French authorities following the death of one of its top European executives a decade ago.

The trial, which is expected to open by the middle of next year, follows a long campaign by the family of Courtenay Allan, 53, who was head of OOCL's transatlantic trades.

Allen died after falling down the lift shaft on board the container ship OOCL Montreal during a customer cocktail party while the ship was docked at Le Havre on its maiden revenue-earning voyage in July 2003.

Commenting on the battle, Hayden Allan, one of Courtenay's three sons, said it has been "a David and Goliath fight over 9-1/2 years" with OOCL using "some very expensive lawyers".

Hayden Allan said it was "good news [French authorities] are prosecuting them".

The family was told last week that the investigating magistrate in Le Havre had decided there was sufficient evidence to charge OOCL with involuntary manslaughter and the case had been referred to criminal court for trial.

Hayden said the trial was expected to take place next spring or early summer. He said yesterday that OOCL has been charged with "involuntary manslaughter by negligence, carelessness, inattention or breach of duty or safety causing the unintentional death of Courtenay Allan".

Hayden's brother, Ben, added: "Over the past 91/2 years, there have been a number of investigations into the OOCL Montreal, but a wall of silence from OOCL despite personal assurances from the chairman, Tung Chee-chen, that they would do the right thing.

"Independent investigations, including that of our own appointed engineer, have long shown evidence that there was human interference and tampering with the lift system."

Courtenay Allan died after plunging 20 metres when he called the lift on board the ship, the doors opened but the lift was still several levels below.

A British inquest into the death found: "There should have been a mechanism in place to ensure that the lift door could not be opened when the lift car was on a different level. It is possible that direct human intervention by way of modifications to the lift system led to this malfunctioning."

Mathieu Croix, of law firm Ince & Co, acting on behalf of OOCL, was not available yesterday. In a statement OOCL said it would fully co-operate with any action required by authorities.