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Ship was type that EU plans to ban

The single-hulled oil tanker Prestige, which sank off the Spanish coast on Tuesday, was part of an aging fleet the European Union is planning to ban over the next decade.

The 730-foot vessel was built in 1976 at Japan's Hitachi Zosen shipyards, according to the American Bureau of Shipping. It is managed by Universe Maritime, a Liberian-registered company based in Athens, Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said.

But the details of the vessel's history are buried in an international paper trail.

The ship _ once named Gladys _ is registered in the Bahamas. It is owned by a Liberian company, Mare Shipping Inc., whose Greek owner died 21 years ago and passed the firm into a trust, according to shipping documents.

Using so-called "flags of convenience," such as Liberia or Panama, is a common practice in international shipping. Such countries offer lower fees, less restrictive laws, lower taxes and cheaper crews.

The Prestige commonly transported oil from Baltic and Russian ports to the Far East.

On its final voyage, it was carrying fuel oil loaded in Latvia. The ship was chartered by Crown Resources, based in Zug, Switzerland, a subsidiary of Alfa Group, a Russian industrial and banking conglomerate.

The American Bureau of Shipping, based in Houston, confirmed last week that it was responsible for "classifying" the tanker, that is, certifying that it had met ABS standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine vessels and structures.

"At the time of the incident the vessel was in full compliance with all ABS classification requirements, including the IACS (International Association of Classification Societies) Enhanced Survey Program for older tankers," the American Bureau of Shipping said.

The Prestige passed its last annual inspection in Dubai in May 2002, and its last Classification Special Survey in drydock at Guangzhou, China, in May 2001.

The EU plans to begin banning single-hull tankers from EU ports in 2005 under a gradual 10-year program. The EU has endorsed the use of double hulls that add a protective layer against spills.

More than half the world's tankers are single-hulled.