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AM Ghent oil spill ‘not a disaster’, but good training should there be one

Eyleen Gomez

An oil spill during a bunkering operation in the Bay of Gibraltar last week was “not a disaster”, local marine conservationist Dr Eric Shaw said, adding that while no one wants to see such incidents occur, the clean-up operation was swift and effective.

Dr Shaw, who runs the Helping Hand Trust charity together with Tessa Feeney, has been involved in marine conservation in Gibraltar for decades.

He helped create Gibraltar’s first artificial reefs and has played a key role in conservation projects to help regenerate marine life in the inner harbour, the area worst hit by the spill.

“Fortunately it has not been a disaster,” Dr Shaw said.

“This has been what I would definitely term as a mild oil spill.”

“Other people may disregard the mild part, but through the years I have seen some really, really bad oil spills that have upset Gibraltar from Western Beach all the way down to Camp Bay.”

Mr Shaw said the clean-up response had been successful, with a “get out and stop it” approach that allowed for lessons in the event of a bad spill in the future.

“The people involved are in effect training for the big time and for what they are possibly going to be asked to do in the future,” he said.

“And we hope they will not get called to do it, but we know that the right things are going to come forward if they are, the right transportation is there, the right equipment for them to go in there.”

“We saw those tide washes whiter than white on the front page of the Chronicle and it looked absolutely fantastic and they have gone through all of those actions.”

“The only part they didn’t get was covered in oil, which is very fortunate and I am very pleased that they didn’t.”

From what Dr Shaw witnessed over the course of several days, the sequence of events from alerting officials to the spill to the deployment of resources was correctly managed.

“All the right buttons were pushed and people were moved out there, posthaste as it were, and it was one of those situations where, had it been really bad and there was still a lot of it coming in, they would have been there watching it and ready to take it away.”

“Oil booms were put out there, they boomed the outside of marina, the marina was boomed, all transportation boat-wise was stopped, technically the port was closed while we looked into how bad this was going to be.”

The spill appears to have been caused by a valve failure on the bulk carrier AM Ghent during a bunkering operation early last Friday.

Much of the spilt oil drifted into the harbour basin and was collected on the water, preventing most of it from reaching the shoreline.

And while he described the incident as ‘mild’, Dr Shaw acknowledged there was still no confirmation as to the full extent of the spill, something that will be established as part of the investigation into the incident.

He acknowledged too that some boat owners were rightly concerned about damage to their vessels’ hulls as a result of the spill.

However, the government has said boat owners whose vessels were affected should contact the Gibraltar Port Authority, which is preparing a claim to recoup the cost of the clean-up and any damage caused.

Ms Feeney called the clean-up operation “a perfect kind of experience for getting experience”.

“Because if it is ever really bad where it is a foot deep in oil, that is a tragic moment for someone to learn how to do things for the first time,” she added.

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