Oil firm gives €100m to Notre Dame – but refuses Cork €4k

May 13th, 2019 12:38 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

The Betegeuse tanker ablaze in January 1979. (Photo: Ian Vickery Snr)

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A MAJOR oil company has been criticised for refusing to fund a modest €4,000 bursary in memory of the victims of the Whiddy Oil disaster in 1979, despite donating a massive €100m to help rebuild Notre Dame.

Total Oil, France’s largest company by sales, was partly blamed for the Bantry Bay disaster on its poorly-maintained Betelgeuse oil tanker.

The tanker fire claimed the lives of 50 mostly-French citizens, and later a salvage diver. Goleen maritime lawyer Michael Kingston, who helped organise this year’s 40th anniversary commemoration of the disaster in Bantry, had been hoping to secure a €4,000 10-year bursary from Total to continue the Betelgeuse Memorial Plaque Award for Safety for students at the National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy, in memory of those who died on the ill-fated oil tanker.

The 1980 Whiddy tribunal report laid some of the blame on the owner of the Betelgeuse which was found to have been rust-laden and in generally poor condition before it split in two during the fire on January 8th, 1979. Michael Kingston’s father Tim perished that night and his son – named Lloyds List Maritime Lawyer of the Year in 2014 – has become a strong advocate for the victims’ families in recent years.

The families believe they never received justice as nobody was found guilty of any wrongdoing following the tragedy. This week a spokesman for Total Oil told Mr Kingston that it would not be contributing towards the bursary as it already had partnerships with some colleges on a ‘global scale’ which ‘doesn’t fit well’ with the request to fund the Maritime College bursary.

Mr Kingston told The Southern Star this week: ‘The figures that I have sought for the memory of 41 employees of Total (and one of their wives – Mrs Lasalle) is utterly insignificant in relation to the €100m they have donated to rebuilding a church. Clearly, with these corporate giants, property is more important than human life and societal values here and in France. This is a decision they will regret.’

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