In the course of reporting on the Prestige, FRONTLINE/World's
Mark Schapiro obtained documents that indicated the aging tanker
was in unsound condition several months before setting sail
on her final journey.
Many of these documents are now under seal in a courthouse
in Spain, where they are evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation
pertaining to the Prestige disaster, and will likely be introduced
as evidence in a civil lawsuit in New York federal court involving
the Spanish government and a classification society, the American
Bureau of Shipping (ABS). Classification societies inspect and
classify ships. Once a ship passes inspection and is classified
as seaworthy, it is insurable. Most ships will not travel without
insurance. If a classification society sees serious problems
on board a ship, it can inform the owner that classifications
will be withheld until the problems are fixed. The ultimate
responsibility belongs with the owner, but the classification
society is a key bulwark against substandard ships hitting the
oceans loaded with toxic cargo.
The Spanish government, which is attempting to reclaim the
billions of dollars in damages caused by the Prestige's
oil, has sued the American Bureau of Shipping, alleging negligence
on ABS's part, asserting that the company bears significant
responsibility for the tanker's setting out to sea in the first
place. ABS has countersued the Spanish government, asserting
that the government's decision not to supply the Prestige
with a safe harbor worsened the effects of the oil spill.
See the fax from Captain Esfraitos Kostazos to ABS detailing
problems with the Prestige and a letter from ABS about
THE CAPTAIN'S COMPLAINT:
FAX FROM KOSTAZOSTO ABS
From June 30 through October 30, 2002, the Prestige
was stationed on the outskirts of the Russian harbor of
St. Petersburg. The ship's then-captain, Esfraitos Kostazos,
faxed a letter on July 23, 2002, to the ship's owners
in Athens, submitting his resignation and demanding he
be replaced "as soon as possible" because of his concerns
over the unsound conditions on board the Prestige.
In his letter, Captain Kostazos made reference to repairs
he had requested repeatedly from the moment he boarded
the Prestige in Kalamata, Greece, on June 7, 2002.
Then, on August 16, 2002, Captain Kostazos sent a fax
to the company that had a contract to inspect the Prestige:
the American Bureau of Shipping, based in Houston, Texas.
In Kostazos's fax to ABS, he listed nine points of concern
about the vessel, including cracked and corroded beam
parts in a ballast tank, leaking engine and nonworking
boilers, and other deficiencies. ABS claims it never received
Kostazos was replaced as captain a month later by Apostolos
Mangouras, under whose command the tanker sank.
See the fax Captain Kostazos says
he sent to ABS before the Prestige sank.
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RESPONSE FROM ABS TO FRONTLINE/World
The American Bureau of Shipping is one of the leading
classification societies in the world.
ABS has held the contract to inspect and monitor the
Prestige since it was constructed in 1976 at a
Japanese shipyard. In May 2002, ABS conducted an annual
inspection of the tanker in Dubai just six months before
she sank: At that time, ABS classified her as seaworthy.
FRONTLINE/World's Mark Schapiro asked ABS about
Captain Kostazos's fax regarding the Prestige;
ABS said that they had conducted an independent audit
and could find no evidence that the fax from Kostazos
to ABS was ever received. ABS responded in detail about
the case and explained its role in the maritime industry.
According to ABS, a classification society's powers are
limited -- it is a ship's owner who has control over a
vessel and is responsible for notifying ABS of any problems
and for maintaining the vessel. Furthermore, they claim
that the Spanish government is to blame for the environmental
damage caused by the Prestige because it refused
to grant the ship access to a sheltered area.
Read exactly what ABS said about
the Prestige case in this letter to FRONTLINE/World.