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Federal judge dismisses Spain claim over 2002 tanker oil spill

[JURIST] US District Judge Laura Swain Wednesday dismissed Spanish damage claims against the American Bureau of Shipping [official website] (ABS), a non-profit organization that inspects and certifies ships, in connection with a major 2002 oil spill. Spain had filed suit in the Southern District of New York [official website] against ABS after the Bahamas-flagged oil tanker Prestige [Wikipedia backgrounder] sank off the northwest coast of Spain, spilling nearly 77,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil in the country's worst pollution disaster. Citing the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC) [text], which provides that the owner of a vessel that has spilled oil carries liability for pollution damage and exempts third parties unless they acted recklessly, Swain ruled that "Spain, as a signatory to the CLC, is bound by CLC's provisions and, therefore, must pursue its claims under that convention in its own courts.” Reuters has more.

In mid-November 2002, one of the twelve tanks on the Prestige burst during a storm off Galicia, prompting the captain to radio for help from Spanish authorities. Spain, however, refused to give the ship port and the leaky vessel was tugged around stormy seas for six days before it split in two and sank. Spain argued that ABS was negligent in classifying the 26-year-old, single-hulled vessel as fit to carry fuel six months prior to the disaster. ABS disputed Spain’s allegations, stating that the disaster could have been averted if Spain had better handled the situation.

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