By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A lawyer for the Italian team competing in this summer's America's Cup sailing regatta in San Francisco said on Monday that he is prepared to go to court over last-minute rule changes that came in the wake of a fatal training accident in May.
The four teams competing for the cup have been meeting with mediators to reach agreement on 37 safety measures that Regatta Director Iain Murray and race organizers formulated after the wreck of an Artemis Racing catamaran killed Olympic gold medalist Andrew Simpson.
While there is broad agreement on most of the new rules, a fierce dispute has arisen over a change in the specification for a piece of boat equipment known as a rudder elevator, which helps control the super-fast, high-tech catamarans when they go airborne on hydrofoils.
"We're prepared to do anything it takes to respect the rules," Luis Saenz, general counsel for the Luna Rossa Challenge, told Reuters.
Legal action would take place in New York Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over the world's oldest sporting trophy, and could threaten the July 7 start of racing.
Luna Rossa argues that the rudder elevators relate to performance and not boat safety. A report in a New Zealand newspaper indicated that Emirates Team New Zealand was also opposed to the rudder elevator change. Murray was not available for comment, and the other teams declined to comment on the rules.
"The class rule doesn't contemplate rudder elevators at all," Saenz said. "We think they have nothing to do with safety. They are a performance instrument, and we do not believe the regatta director should get into regulating rudder elevators.
"The regatta director has all the right in the world to issue recommendations. He cannot change the class rule."
Those rules set out parameters for the design of the boats, and all teams must agree to any changes.
Race participants have agreed to settle their disputes via a five-person international jury. But "if the jury became crazy" and exceeded its jurisdiction by allowing the rules to be changed without unanimous consent, Saenz said he believes the Italians would have the right to go to court.
The San Francisco coroner and the police department are continuing to investigate the May incident, with help from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard must issue a permit for the event, and the new safety rules are expected to be a part of the formal permit application. Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz said he anticipated issuing the permit without a problem.
"We won't go into how they build their vessels," he said. "That's up to the America's Cup."
(Editing by Jonathan Weber and Lisa Shumaker)