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November 19, 2002

Tanker Prestige breaks up, sinks
Despite the best efforts of salvors Smit International, the aging Bahamas-flag, Greek-owned tanker Prestige has broken up and has sunk.

The 1976-built, single hulled vessel was carrying a cargo of 70,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil..There are fears of a massive ecological disaster if all this oil escapes from thevessel, which was about 250 kilometres (150 miles) from the Spanish coast when it started to break up.

A spokesman for Smit Salvage said at least some of the compartments containing oil would go to the sea bed intact, lessening the impact of the spill, but that it was impossible to say how many.

"And the low temperature of the sea will hopefully slow down the speed at which the oil escapes from those compartments which have split," the spokesman told the BBC News Onli

A brief statement issued by Smit earlier today says:

Smit Salvage can report that the fore section of the Prestige sank at 16.15 CET. The salvage team on site were powerless to prevent the vessel sinking after she broke in two earlier today.

These latest developments came about despite the best efforts of the Salvage team who have been battling to save the Prestige since she ran into trouble in heavy seas on Wednesday 13 November, 2002.

The Prestige is a Bahamas flagged Tanker with a deadweight tonnage of 81,564 tonnes. She measures 243.50 meters in length and 34.40 meters in width and was built in 1976.

The vessel is classed with ABS which had already launched a detailed technical investigation into the possible causes of the damage sustained by the 81,589 dwt, Bahamas-flag tanker Prestige, operated by Universe Maritime Ltd of Greece. "Early reports of the incident have been confusing with respect to the type of damage sustained, the possible causes of the damage and the extent of the pollution that occurred," said ABS President Robert D. Somerville.

"Now that the salvors appear to have stabilized the vessel, we have asked all the parties concerned for full details, including the initial and damaged loading conditions so that we can conduct appropriate strength and stability analyses," he said. "We have also established a close liaison with the flag State. We are pleased that they have approved the release of all relevant statutory information to legitimate interested parties as part of our commitment to full transparency."

ABS has also confirmed with Equasis the vessel's Port State Control history. This shows that it has been inspected five times since 1998 with a record of zero detentions and only four minor deficiencies.

ABS has carried out an extensive review of the survey history of the vessel, placing particular emphasis on the extensive steel renewals that were completed as part of the vessel's fifth special survey in May 2001. It is currently assembling a photographic survey history from files retained in the classification society's offices in China and Dubai. It has also worked with IACS to verify that there are no sister vessels that may be impacted by the incident.

The Prestige is a Category 1 vessel under the new Marpol 13G requirements. The tanker is not configured for protectively located, segregated ballast tanks (PLSBT). But it is approved for Hydrostatic Ballast Loading and ABS has initiated a comprehensive review of the sloshing and other analyses undertaken as part of that approval. The vessel's phase out date under Marpol 13G is 11 March 2005.

WAITING FOR THE KNEE JERK

The tanker industry is now bracing itself for the inevitable regulatory and legislative reaction to a spill that could well have at least as big an impact as the Exxon Valdez accident.

Many, many questions about the cause of the accident need investigating. However, the history of earlier spills is that elected officials have not always waited for investigations to be concluded before rushing to regulate.

INTERTANKO, meantime, has issued a statement saying that it very much regrets the loss of the tanker Prestige and the environmental, social and economic consequences of this extremely unfortunate incident.

INTERTANKO says it welcomes the statements of ABS and the Bahamas Maritime Authority that they are making available all of the historical records on Prestige. INTERTANKO believes that it is essential that all major marine accidents are comprehensively investigated and that the results are made public so that important lessons can be learned.

INTERTANKO says it is committed to contributing to the post-incident analysis to the fullest extent wherever this is useful and possible. "We will also," says its statement, "encourage the prompt and efficient implementation of any appropriate measures that are developed from a rigorous investigation in to the causes of this accident."

INTERTANKO says it understands that the owner of the vessel, Mare Shipping Inc and operator of the vessel, Universe Maritime Ltd, has been cooperating with all relevant authorities and is committed to participate fully with the accident investigation.

INTERTANKO says it has "particularly noted the observations of the European Commission that that the industry does not necessarily need new legislation but that existing regulations must be implemented and enforced consistently and uniformly."


INTERTANKO says it has further noted that the international compensations schemes for all those who are likely to suffer from pollution damage, namely CLC 92 and the Fund Convention 92 should be applicable in this case.

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