ABS Reacts to Spain’s Proposed EC Complaint

Wednesday, July 02, 2003
ABS has reacted with outrage to the Spanish Government’s announced intention to seek withdrawal of its recognition as an approved classification society by the European Commission. “This appears to be another tactical ploy to divert attention from Spain’s own negligence in the manner in which it handled the Prestige incident,” said ABS spokesperson and Vice President, Stewart Wade. According to ABS there is absolutely no factual basis for the Spanish petition under the relevant European Council Directive. The Directive clearly specifies the terms for both recognition and the withdrawal of such recognition by the EC. It explicitly states that the safety and pollution performance records of all ships within a society’s classed fleet are to be considered to guard against the distortion created by any one incident. The Directive singles out data from the Paris MOU and other similar Port State Control schemes as being the principal indicators of a class society’s performance. “ABS has always placed within the top echelon of class societies within the annual tabulations of class society performance compiled by the Paris MOU,” Wade said. “And in 2002, ABS had an unblemished record under the US Coast Guard’s Port State regime, with zero recorded detentions for class related deficiencies,” he added. The Directive also requires recognized classification societies to undergo periodic assessment by the Commission. ABS was subject to an extensive assessment by a team of EC auditors in early May of this year. “Preliminary indications are that nothing other than routine findings was identified,” said Wade. ABS also voluntarily invited the EC to participate as an observer to the IACS ad hoc audit of all its survey activities related to the Prestige, conducted in December 2002-January 2003. Unlike Spain, which was also invited to participate and elected not to, the EC participated fully in the audit and was strongly complimentary of ABS transparency. The Spanish Government announced its intention to seek EC action against ABS immediately after the filing of the ABS response and counterclaims to the legal action instigated by the Kingdom of Spain against the classification society in New York. In that filing, ABS alleges that the Spanish Government violated its own national laws in its responses to the casualty. The Spanish Government’s latest announcement also immediately follows press reports of a new study, conducted by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF), which is critical of the Spanish Government’s actions in denying the Prestige a place of refuge. The recently released draft European Parliament Transport Committee report on the casualty also leveled serious criticism against the Spanish government for its response to the casualty.

“We continue to be perplexed as to the reason that the Spanish Government should have singled out ABS, from all those involved with the vessel, as the sole target of these continuing unsubstantiated and unmerited attacks,” said Wade. “We will continue to vigorously defend our reputation and our integrity in the Courts. And we believe this latest statement of intent by the Spanish Government is a completely baseless and vindictive attempt to sully the reputation of ABS within the industry.”

Wade expressed concern that, in attempting to score political and tactical points, the Government of Spain has either failed to realize, or has ignored, the fundamental role of all classification societies in establishing and maintaining an effective safety regime for the international maritime industry. “As has been repeatedly stressed over the last few years, the international shipping industry is operating more safely today than at any time in its history,” Wade said. “The classification societies, including ABS as one of the leading proponents of higher maritime standards, have played a critical role in furthering these improvements. Actions such as this latest misguided Spanish proposal are ultimately counter productive as the attempted vilification of one society, such as ABS, has a negative impact on the public’s perception of the classification profession in its entirety.”

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