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November 18, 2003

Recovered Prestige steel refutes poor maintenance claim

ABS says that the first piece of steel recovered from the wreck of the Prestige "appears to soundly refute allegations made by the Spanish government that the vessel was in poor structural condition."

The steel was recovered by a Spanish expedition that used remotely controlled underwater vehicles (ROVs) to cut and retrieve a section of hull plating from the starboard side of the vessel. As reported in the Spanish press, ABS has learned that thickness measurements taken on board the recovery craft confirmed that the material met class rule requirements. The plate, now in the custody of the court in Corcubion, had a minimum thickness at least equivalent to the design scantling of 20.5 mm.

As reported, says ABS, the sample also appeared to confirm that the interior coating of the plate was in good condition and that the plate had been subject to only mild exterior pitting from corrosion. ABS says it has also learned that extensive close-up video footage of the vessel has been taken by the ROVs and also appears to confirm that the plating thickness and condition were adequate.

"This evidence strongly refutes the continuing public allegations that have been made regarding the condition of the Prestige at the time of the casualty," said ABS spokesman and vice president Stewart Wade.

The most recent allegations stem from Spanish press reports of a fax, purported to have been sent to ABS by the temporary relief master of the Prestige in August of 2002. This fax has only just been made public, a full year after the casualty.

The fax is reported to enumerate various mechanical and structural defects. "ABS has conducted an extensive electronic search of all fax transmissions received at that time and has no record of having received the alleged communication from the master," said Wade. He also pointed out that the confirmation message reproduced in the Spanish press, purporting to show the message had been received by ABS, carries a telephone number in Greece associated with the owner of the vessel.

The published reproduction also indicates that the message was addressed to a then defunct commercial affiliate of ABS, not to the class society.

"Such a fax, direct to the class society by either the master or the owner would be very unusual," Wade added. ˝Not only would it have elicited an immediate response, but a printout of the fax would have been inserted into the vessel's survey correspondence file." ABS undertook an exhaustive search of the entire record of the Prestige immediately after the casualty and no such fax was found. The files were further investigated as part of the IACS ad hoc audit, to which the Spanish government was invited, but declined to send an observer.

The list of alleged deficiencies refer to items that were subject to extensive survey and renewal as part of the vessel's fifth special survey in China in 2001. "The records of that survey have been subject to intense independent scrutiny and no such shortcomings have been identified," said Wade.

The alleged presence of cracks in the Number 3 port cargo/ballast tank are of particular interest since this space was subject to extensive steel renewals at the special survey including the replacement of a substantial portion of the transverse bulkheads, repair and renewal of wasted sections of the longitudinal bulkhead, the renewal of sections of shell plating and renewal of corroded and damaged sections of the transverse web frames and plates.

"None of the evidence available to us, from the sample cut from the hull to the evidence relating to the surveys undertaken on the vessel, gives any credence to these most recent allegations," said Wade.

"In fact, if the alleged cracks were present, this would further substantiate the ABS claim that the vessel suffered a weakening of the hull structure as a consequence of the extensive lightering activities in which it was engaged in St Petersburg at the time this message was apparently sent to the owner of the Prestige," Wade added.

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