Deputy Editorial Director
Center for Investigative Reporting
131 Steuart Street, Suite 600
San Francisco, California 94105
Dear Mr Schapiro,
ABS regrets that it has been unable to arrange an on-camera
interview with you for your report on the Prestige. However,
we welcome this opportunity to respond to the many questions
you have raised in order to clarify the role of classification
societies in general, and of ABS in particular.
You will understand that, due to ongoing legal action,
we are limited on what we can say at this stage.
As I am sure you are aware, ABS is a not-for-profit
classification society. ABS is specifically authorized
by United States law to class vessels of the United States.
In the case of the Prestige, a Bahamian-flagged vessel,
ABS performed its classification and statutory roles pursuant
to Bahamian law.
Certain points must be emphasized. At an early stage
ABS conducted a technical analysis of the casualty and
ABS requested an unprecedented, independent, external
audit, carried out by IACS in December 2002-January 2003
with observers from the European Commission, Bahamas,
IMO and Intertanko in attendance. Spain was invited to
attend, but did not send an observer. The IACS audit looked
at of all ABS' survey activities related to the Prestige
and did not find any significant anomalies. We have consistently
acted in a transparent manner and have maintained open
communication with the various authorities investigating
Much information can be found on the ABS website dedicated
to the Prestige, including the results of surveys and
details of the casualty. Notably the role of ABS is set
out in a further attachment (The Role of Classification
and the Class Surveyor) which should help you better understand
the function of a classification society. It also includes
a detailed explanation of the process that begins in the
shipyard and continues throughout a vessel's service life.
I urge you to review this information, as it will address
some of the points you raise.
From the perspective of ABS, many incorrectly believe
that the powers of the classification society are much
wider than they are. In reality the role and responsibility
of the class society is very limited and forms only one
part of a maritime safety net in which the shipowner is
the most important member.
It is the shipowner who has total control over a vessel,
including the manner in which it is operated and maintained.
Class societies are neither detective agencies, assigned
to root out every possible shortcoming, nor policemen
with wide ranging powers of enforcement. Classification
is still voluntary and its effectiveness depends upon
the shipowner, and other interests, disclosing problems
with a vessel, not covering them up.
Throughout a vessel's life, the shipowner is an integral
part of the survey process. The owner must notify the
class society of any condition which might affect class.
If there is the least question, the owner should notify
class and schedule a survey to answer any questions.
It should also be emphasized that class Rules do not
cover every piece of structure or item of equipment on
board a vessel, nor do they cover operational elements.
It must also be emphasized that a class surveyor may
only go on board a vessel once in a twelve month period,
for the annual survey. At that time it is neither possible,
nor expected that the surveyor scrutinize the entire structure
of the vessel or its machinery. The survey involves a
sampling process, for which guidelines exist based upon
empirical experience. The survey is intended to allow
ABS surveyors to determine whether the society's Rules
have been followed.
Despite frequent public pronouncements by other parties
to this incident, ABS prefers to mount its arguments in
the court. We look forward to the opportunity to do so
as we remain convinced that based on all the facts it
will be determined that ABS is not responsible for the
In the meantime, we would caution Frontline and others
in the media to carefully and fully verify all assertions
they present, particularly in matters such as this, where
the hard-earned reputation for excellence and integrity
of our not-for-profit organization is unjustifiably called
Stewart H. Wade
Responses to Questions
Q1. What role has ABS played over the course of
the life of the Prestige, since it was constructed in
This vessel was built in 1976 to ABS Rules, as they
applied at the time, and had been surveyed to ABS Rules
throughout its entire service life, at least through its
last survey in May of 2002. As an ABS classed vessel it
was subject to a recognized survey regime. Notably the
class surveyor only normally attends the vessel once in
a twelve-month period for the required Annual Survey and
can therefore only attest to the condition, according
to his judgment, at that time. The last annual survey
of the Prestige was conducted over a period of 11 days
in Dubai in May of 2002, six months prior to the casualty.
On those occasions that an ABS classed vessel sustains
structural or machinery damage in the course of its operations
- which every ship will at various times throughout its
life - an ABS surveyor attends the vessel, if and when
notified by the owner, to verify that repairs are carried
out in such a manner that the vessel is brought back into
compliance with our class Rules. It is important to emphasize,
that responsibility for the maintenance and repair of
a classed vessel falls solely upon the shipowner, because
only the shipowner has day-to-day control of the vessel
and knowledge of its condition.
In addition, every two and one half years the vessel
undergoes an intermediate survey that involves closer
scrutiny of its structure. Every five years it is subject
to Special Survey, which requires the drydocking of the
vessel and extensive survey of its structure as specified
in the applicable ABS Rules for survey after construction.
The last Special Survey of the Prestige was conducted
in Guangzhou, China in April of 2001, over a period of
46 days, reflecting the increasing rigor of these inspections
as a vessel ages.
The Prestige was also subject to the Enhanced Survey
Program, adopted by all members of the International Association
of Classification Societies, and as required by the SOLAS
and MARPOL Conventions. This program imposes even more
stringent close up survey requirements.
Q2. What is ABS' response to the Spanish government's
assertion that the company bears significant responsibility
for the sinking of the Prestige?
Bearing the true role and responsibility of the class
society in mind, the ABS response to the Spanish Government
is clear cut: Spain is wrong to claim that ABS has any
responsibility for the Prestige casualty. ABS has investigated
all facts presently available to it as thoroughly as it
can and has determined that its surveyors diligently performed
the surveys on the Prestige in accordance with ABS rules.
Furthermore, presently available evidence is not sufficient
to establish with certainty the initiating cause of the
damage. Theories abound, the principal of which have been
addressed in detail in the previously published ABS
Technical Analyses Related to the Prestige Casualty which
is available from the ABS web site.
Q3. What are the central assertions of ABS' counter-suit
against the Spanish government?
ABS believes that in refusing to grant the Prestige
access to a sheltered area, the Spanish Government is
almost wholly responsible for any pollution that resulted
from the actual sinking of the Prestige. Although there
is a suggestion that some cargo did spill from the Prestige
when it initially suffered damage, this was only temporary
and was corrected by the counter ballasting actions taken
by the master of the vessel. However, by refusing safe
harbor or a sheltered area, the Spanish Government placed
the Prestige in a situation where it was certain to break
up in heavy seas. ABS also claims, amongst other things,
that the Spanish Government violated the applicable Spanish
law and International Conventions that impose upon it
a duty to minimize pollution.
More importantly (and as numerous experts, observers
and governmental bodies have publicly stated), Spain itself
bears the ultimate responsibility for the Prestige, because
the sinking of the vessel, and the related major oil spill,
were the direct result of actions taken by the Government
of Spain to force the Prestige away from shore where it
was certain to break apart. I am attaching a copy of ABS'
counterclaims and defenses in the New York litigation
for your easy reference, where the details of Spain's
misconduct are detailed
Q4. I have obtained a copy of correspondence sent
to ABS ('ABS Marine Services') from the Prestige while
moored in St. Petersburg, Russia. We are including this
fax and the information it contains in our broadcast.
Dated August 16, 2002, it is a fax sent from the then-captain
of the ship, E. Kostazos, expressing serious doubts about
conditions on his vessel-including corrosion and cracked
beam parts, non-working engine parts and other troubles
on board. We would like you to respond to this fax, which
indicates that ABS was made aware of conditions on the
Prestige three months before the ship set sail on its
final journey-and three months after the annual inspection
conducted by ABS surveyors in Dubai in May. Did ABS
respond to the information contained within this fax?
ABS was only made aware of the existence of the fax
- and the events described in the fax - following the
recent reports that appeared in the Spanish press. ABS
has no evidence that the fax was ever transmitted to ABS.
Nor, it should be added, did the independent audit of
ABS' files, undertaken soon after the Prestige casualty,
uncover this fax.
The copy of the fax we have seen shows that it was transmitted
to the Greek owners but we have seen no evidence, if the
document is genuine, that it was ever sent to ABS or arrived
at an office of ABS. To date ABS has only had access to
the copy of the fax referred to in the Spanish press,
even though the stamp on the document showed it to be
a formal copy released by the Spanish court of inquiry
in January 2003, some 10 months before it was made public.
Even if the fax is genuine, it would be most probable
that it was not sent to ABS, since the normal practice
is for a master to communicate any findings of damage,
wear, corrosion or other factor that may influence the
vessel's continued maintenance in class to the owner of
the vessel. The owner is then required to instruct the
class society to attend the vessel at the first available
opportunity to determine if the noted shortcoming equates
to non-compliance with the class society's Rules. If so,
then appropriate repairs must be made to the attending
class surveyor's satisfaction.
At no time subsequent to the vessel's annual survey
in Dubai in May of 2002 did the owner or manager of the
Prestige notify ABS of any deficiency or request attendance
of the vessel by an ABS surveyor.
The items in the fax are not very descriptive and are
too vague to address with any certainty. Any number of
pipes could be involved in the seawater lines (#3) and
numerous pipes could be involved in the discharge lines
(#7). The survey status of the vessel shows two saltwater
service pumps, which can be used to feed the fire pumps,
an emergency fire pump, and a fire, bilge and ballast
pump. Any of these pumps could be the fire pump with the
pressure that is "not normal" (#8).
We will not attempt to address each of the nine items
in the fax, in fact as noted, some are too vague to be
thoroughly addressed. We will point out that the boilers
were surveyed and substantial repairs were made to the
boilers in China in May 2001. If the crew did not properly
maintain or operate the boilers, the problems noted would
be the result of improper maintenance or operation.
Item number 7 relates to oil discharge lines, without
clear identification of the many lines that could be involved.
But it should be noted that if the "oil discharge lines"
had been blinded, the vessel would not have been able
to fulfill its function as a lightering vessel in Saint
Petersburg. The various parties loading and off-loading
cargo would have protested this condition; the vessel
would then have been put off hire until such time as the
defect had been corrected. The ability to move cargo was
important to the operation for the vessel and the owners.
It is difficult to understand that they would have tolerated
blockage of the discharge lines.
Q5. The fax was written after previous expressions
of concern about the condition of the vessel, dating back
to the first week of June, in Kalamata, Greece. Did ABS
attempt, at any stage subsequent to the inspection in
May, to provide warning, admonition, or recommendation
to the vessel's owner, insurers or flag state, Bahamas,
as to ways in which perceived flaws in the vessel might
be corrected? What is ABS or other class societies'
responsibility in such situations, when flaws are reported
subsequent to inspections?
Usually a master will communicate any findings of damage,
wear, corrosion, etc., to the owner of the vessel. It
is the owner that is required to instruct the class society
to attend the vessel at the first available opportunity.
If damage, etc., results in non-compliance with the class
society's Rules, appropriate repairs must be made to the
attending class surveyor's satisfaction.
At no time subsequent to the vessel's annual survey
in Dubai in May of 2002 through until the time of the
casualty, did the owner or manager of the Prestige notify
ABS of any deficiency or request attendance of the vessel
by an ABS surveyor.
Q.6 From June to October, 2002, there were repeated
indications that the Prestige was in questionable condition,
and not prepared to go to sea. These observations and requests
for repairs begin in June 2002-just over two weeks after
the Prestige was inspected by ABS in Dubai (mid-May). They
- June 2002: requests by Captain Kostazos, beginning
when he took command of the vessel on June 8, asking of
the owners that serious repairs be done on the vessel.
Those requests were repeated during the voyage's subsequent
journey from Kalamata, Greece to St.Petersburg.
- July 2002: Captain Kostazos, in a letter to the
owners in Greece, indicates his desire to resign as commander
due to the substandard condition of the ship, and his
lack of confidence in its seaworthiness. He asks to be
- 16 August 2002: Captain Kostazos sends a fax to
ABS Marine Services indicating at least nine problems
in the structure and the engine of the Prestige-including
corrosion and cracked beam parts.
- 13 September, 2002: Captain Kostazos is replaced
by Captain Apostolo Mangouras.
- November 2002: A Danish pilot boards the Prestige
to navigate the vessel through the narrow straits separating
Denmark and Sweden. In later reports, the Danish pilot
expresses grave misgivings about the seaworthiness of
the vessel (though I am aware he makes no move to stop
- November 14, 2002: A Spanish rescue official, Serafin
Diaz, is airlifted onto the Prestige after its initial
distress signal, and says that the tanker's engine was
riddled with problems, and it was a 'substandard' vessel.
- November 19, 2002: The Prestige sinks.
In the summer and fall of 2002, there was mounting
concern among those in contact with the Prestige that
it was in troubled condition, and not seaworthy. These
concerns begin in June 2002-before the vessel arrives
in St. Petersburg and just weeks after the ABS inspection
in Dubai. What, if anything, did ABS miss during its
inspection of the Prestige?
Firstly, if the master of the vessel had communicated
various concerns to the owner/manager of the Prestige
the owner/manager did not notify ABS about anything Captain
Kostazos may have reported. If this is correct, the owner
may have violated its affirmative obligation under ABS
Rules, which require an owner to inform ABS of any class-related
Secondly, our own technical analysis and the IACS external
audit of all ABS' survey activities related to the Prestige,
carried out shortly after the Prestige incident, did not
find any significant anomalies which would indicate fault
on the part of ABS.
ABS has learned from reliable sources that the Prestige
apparently added an additional welder to its crew after
the ABS survey in Dubai. ABS still does not know why the
vessel required these welders. Again, the owner/manager
did not notify ABS about any problems requiring extra
To repeat our earlier statement: "Throughout a vessel's
life, the shipowner is an integral part of the survey
process. The owner must notify class of any condition
which might affect class. If there is the least question,
the owner should notify class and schedule a survey to
answer any questions."
If what Capt. Kostazos has told you concerning his conversations
with the vessel owner is true, the owner may have violated
its affirmative obligation under our Rules, which required
it to inform ABS of any class-related shortcomings. As
a consequence, it is possible that the vessel was operating
in contravention of ABS Rules at the time of the casualty.
The pending judicial proceedings may well shed additional
light on this issue.
Q7. Who does ABS feel is responsible for the sinking
of the Prestige?
There are two points here - 1) the initial damage done
to the vessel and 2) the sinking and resulting environmental
damage. It is possible that we will never know what caused
the initial damage to the hull of the Prestige although
several investigations are seeking an answer. Hypotheses
range from a blow from a heavy object, to weaknesses caused
to the hull by lightering operations in St. Petersburg.
However, there is no doubt in our minds that the subsequent
loss of the vessel and environmental damage is due to
the actions of the Spanish authorities. As we pointed
out above, any cargo which did spill from the Prestige
when it initially suffered damage was only a temporary
problem, as the vessel was quickly righted by actions
taken by the master on board the vessel.
It was only when the Spanish authorities forced the
Prestige out into the North West Atlantic in heavy seas
and some 24 hours later that structural degradation resulted
in the vessel leaking further oil. That the vessel survived
for 6 days under these conditions before finally breaking
apart, despite the initial structural damage and despite
being stressed to limits far in excess of its design capability,
is proof positive that the vessel was not in a "substandard"
condition as has been alleged.