The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) will face a trail by jury in September next year after it failed in an attempt to have a case brought by the Basque government over the Prestige dismissed.
The Federal Court in Houston rejected a claim by ABS that the Basque government did not have the legal standing to bring the case in Houston.
Houston-based Tony Buzbee, who is representing the Basque government, described the Federal Court decision as a "major victory". He said: "If the judge had decided in favour of ABS it would have meant our case was over. We proved that under Spanish Law the Basque government has every right to bring this case in Houston."
ABS also attempted to have the case shifted to New York and heard together with another claim over the Prestige accident brought by the Kingdom of Spain.
ABS will have no right to appeal. Buzbee said: "The Basque government wanted this case heard in Houston and ABS will have to defend itself in Houston." The oil tanker Prestige sank off the northwest coast of Spain in November last year with 22.5 million gallons of fuel oil.
The Basque government is claiming negligence on the part of ABS, which surveyed the vessel twice before the accident.
Buzbee said: "My clients thought all along that ABS should have done a better job. The disaster has impacted on local fishing, tourism and economies. It is reported that the Prestige sinking is already more damaging than the Exxon Valdez."
In a statement ABS said: "ABS will continue to prepare a vigorous defence against this claim and the claim of the Spanish Government that has been filed in New York."
Adam Corbett London
October 31, 2003