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Environmentalists concerned over oil spill impact

Local environmentalists have raised concerns over the potential impact of any leaked oil from cargo ship OS 35, which is beached at Catalan Bay.

The Environmental Safety Group (ESG) said it was felt “saddened and angry” to see heavy fuel escaping boom containment and moving into open water.

The group added that, if tides change, this leak could damage the local natural environment.

“We do not understand how this has not been contained, running clearly past the containment boom,” the ESG said.

“We are concerned the worst case scenario could now be before us and feel saddened and angry for our environment.”

“Hope recovery efforts as described are as successful as possible in limiting spread and removing the oil.”

The ESG said it willing to help where it can.

The Nautilus Project (TNP) added it was “gravely concerned at the news” and has been closely monitoring the situation since the collision.

TNP said the spill was an unfortunate and predictable outcome.

“With no pumping activities having taken place over the last two days, we now face a potential leak of over 500 litres of fuels and oils contaminating our coastline. Any attempt at recovery could have reduced the total gross spillage,” said a statement from TNP.

“The harmful effects of oil spills are well understood and documented. These detrimental effects can be detected throughout the water column up to a decade after an incident.”

“As long as we continue bunkering activities the risks of these oil spills is something that we will have to continuously manage with the obvious marine impact on local species.”

According to TNP, an Environmental Impact Assessment in the area of Catalan Bay recorded 519 Patella ferruginea limpets; an EU protected species which are now in real danger of contamination and their survival is at risk.

“This is but a single species of significance,” it said.

“The last major incident was back in February 2021 with the AM Ghent, less than two years ago in which environmental damages were sought.”

“The charity entrusts that the relevant authorities will seek appropriate compensation for damages to the ecosystem which will inevitably ensue and recover the costs of any clean-up operation.”

“Nautilus have been requested to be on standby to help with the environmental mitigation. As always, we are ready to answer the call and offer our support to the agencies responsible for the operation.”

“We have a group of volunteers ready to assist in an attempt to minimise the harm from the oil,” it added.

Eric Shaw from the NGO Helping Hands had nothing but praise for the Captain of the Port, John Ghio, and his team.

“We have a very competent Captain of the Port and the same goes for his team, a very competent team who are carrying out this work,” he told the Chronicle.

“He was very brave to say ‘go to the Eastside and beach up’. And I am in full agreement with what he did.”

“He contained what could have been a disaster.”

Referring to the drone shots of the oil spill, Mr Shaw said the dark patches visible inside the boom were heavy oil and the “pretty colourful stuff” outside the boom was diesel, which is microbe thin, as thin as cigarette paper, he noted.

He said there has been worse situations when a replenishing hose has broken loose in the Bay of Gibraltar.

He praised the decision to use a Dutch team which has carried out work in Gibraltar previously as they are known and trusted, while also stating he was grateful for the help Spain was providing to the situation.

Mr Shaw added what the public need to do is “stop rubbernecking and criticising on Facebook, talking about something they know nothing about” and let the people do their job.

He acknowledged there will be some impact to some wildlife but, fingers crossed, with the professionals doing their job, this will be minimal and mitigated.

“I’m really proud of [the whole team involved] and it’s wrong that they are getting slagged off,” he said.

Addressing people who criticise directly: “if you are so clever, go do something about it.”

He added that Helping Hands is available to help if necessary, but hopes this will not be the case.

GONHS told the Chronicle that oil spills are harmful to all forms of marine life regardless of whether the habitats are coastal or offshore.

“Typically, the intertidal areas are hit hardest, causing negative long-term effects on interdependencies between species in food chains,” GONHS said.

It added that seabirds are often the hardest hit by oil spills and the evidence shows that attempts at intervention are often followed by a low rate in survival.

“In Gibraltar, this potentially threatens species of conservation concern,” GONHS said, before adding that it welcomed the news that the fuel recovery operation is well underway.

“This is a positive development to a serious environmental situation,” GONHS said.

“We welcome that the RGP has already taken action, and urge a thorough investigation. We hope that the operation will be successful before the weather turns back to Easterlies.”

Pollution Watch Gibraltar (PWG) have also been monitoring the situation and said it was sad that the oil spill happened, but not unexpected, considering the volume of shipping activity in the Bay of Gibraltar.

"Oil spills are amongst the worst environmental disasters as they affect the marine ecosystem, and humans in close proximity to the spills,” PWG told the Chronicle.

“PWG is particularly concerned about the health impacts on those who are participating in the clean-up and on the population who live in close proximity to the spill.”

“These include short-term effects such as headache, nausea, respiratory and neurological symptoms; and long term effects such as chromosome damage and cancer.”

“PWG urges those participating in the clean-up operations to use protective equipment such as masks, and gloves especially if coming into direct contact with heavy fuel oil to minimise the risk of toxicological consequences.”

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