The Court of Appeal says a decision is needed on whether it can pursue an issue of Crown immunity involving a state-owned mainland company, even if the parties that originally raised the matter have dropped it. The issue arose in the case of Hua Tian Long, a floating derrick whose owners were sued by Intraline Resources, a Malaysian company which claims the owners breached an agreement to provide the derrick to work on offshore Vietnamese and Malaysian projects. The Hua Tian Long, the largest floating derrick crane-barge in Asia, was earlier identified as belonging to the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau, under the Ministry of Communications. At issue is whether the owners may claim Crown immunity in the lawsuit and, in general, whether, after the handover, the mainland government enjoys the privilege. Crown immunity allows the sovereign or the state to avoid liability when sued. The case is the first time the issue has appeared before the Hong Kong courts. 'It is probably one of the greatest points of great and general public importance that has arisen since the handover,' said Charles Sussex SC, for Intraline. Previously, a lower court ruled the owners of Hua Tian Long could claim Crown immunity. However, the court decided that the owners, based on their conduct during the court proceedings, had waived that right. Now, the derrick's owners are appealing, though not on the basis of arguments relating to Crown immunity. Intraline, thinking it might not have the funds to carry the issue to the Court of Final Appeal, chose not to pursue it at the appeal. Vice-president of the High Court Tang Ching said at a hearing yesterday a decision was needed on whether the court could still pursue the issue even if neither party did, adding that the question was important. Teresa Cheng SC, for the owners, said it was not open for the court to do so. 'Important though it is, neither party ... has come to the court to seek a decision on it,' she said. Sussex, however, argued that the court did have the power to pursue it. The case was adjourned. The Hua Tian Long arrived in Hong Kong in April 2008 to raise the Neftegaz-67, a supply vessel that collided with a bulk carrier and sank. Intraline has sued the derrick's owners, saying it was unable to complete the offshore projects because Hua Tian Long was a no-show. Hua Tian Long was arrested by a bailiff on April 21, 2008, and released on May 9 that year after Guangzhou Salvage paid a bail bond.