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Govt says impact of oil spill is ‘localised’ as clean-up operation continues

Photos by Johnny Bugeja

Between 1000 and 2000 litres of low sulphur fuel oil were spilt from the gas tanker Gas Venus during a bunkering operation on off the South Mole on Tuesday, officials said on Wednesday, as work continued to clean up a small stretch of coastline tarred black by the ensuing oil spill.

In an update, the Gibraltar Government confirmed most of the released oil was concentrated in the areas of Camp Bay, Rosia Bay and Little Bay, with a portion of the area known as Seven Sisters also affected.

There was no indication of free-floating oil south of Little Bay or north of Seven Sisters and there were no remaining large patches of free-floating oil in the bay.

The Gibraltar Port Authority had eight launches deployed to tackle free-floating sheen that was emanating from the heavy oil collected on the coastline.

But there was no expectation of further heavy oil landing onshore and the port was reopened for non-bunkering commercial operations at 6pm on Wednesday.

The update followed a meeting of a Strategic Coordinating Group convened in response to the oil spill.

The meeting at No.6 Convent Place was chaired by the Minister for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento, and attended by the Minister for the Port, Vijay Daryanani, and the Minister for Environment, Dr John Cortes, as well as officials overseeing the response operation.

On Wednesday evening, the Captain of the Port, John Ghio, confirmed that "significant progress" had been made throughout the day in the clean-up operations on the shoreline.

The operations on the shoreline were temporarily suspended at 4.30pm as conditions were determined to be unsafe due to the high tide at this time.

The situation is continuously being monitored by drones and shoreside surveys with intentions to
continue with clean up operations later Wednesday evening, conditions permitting.

The priority areas were Camp Bay and the area between Camp Bay and Rosia Bay, where the largest amounts of oil have been deposited and which is a marine protected area.

In a two-pronged approach, teams were deployed to conduct shoreside clean-up at low tide, while the GPA continue to tackle free-floating sheen from sea.

“Although the full environmental impact from the spill will take a number of weeks to quantify, the Department of Environment are taking detailed records and ecological surveys in order to conduct a full investigation,” No.6 Convent Place said in a detailed update.

“Fortunately, there have been no reports of oiled seabirds to date.”

Even so, a bird washing bay has been mobilised and is ready for use, with the public urged to report any sightings of oiled seabirds to the Environmental Research and Protection Unit on 58009620.

Dr Liesl Mesilio Torres, CEO and Chief Scientist at the Ministry for Environment, told the Chronicle the aim is to have the beaches open to the public by the weekend, clean-up operations and weather permitting.

“We gave it a big push today and there was no new free floating thick oil, it was mainly sheening,” she told the Chronicle.

“The sheening is from what hit the rocks with the wave actions which can sometimes remobilise the sheen.”

“We had the vessels like we had yesterday going around just collecting anything that was free floating.”

“And today we focused massive efforts in Rosia Bay, Camp Bay. Little Bay seems to have gone relatively unscathed from it.”

“We removed the jellyfish nets from Little Bay and Camp Bay to clean them because they had a little bit of oil and if we don't clean them, then that's just going to keep releasing.”

“All going well, in the next day or so I'm hopeful that we'll be able to remove the red flags and allow bathing, but obviously with the caveat that, because things are changing, and it's the marine environment, you know, things could change.”

She noted there was very choppy seas on Wednesday afternoon, which she said is very good because the wave action will naturally break up a lot of the oil.

“The thing is what goes on the coastline will affect the intertidal zone. Whereas with a wave action, you break it up and it becomes micrometres in the marine environment, it's more dispersed, it is less likely to have negative impacts than a whole area of coastline smothered in oil,” she said.

Separately, the Director of Public Health advised that while the general risk to the population was low, the public should avoid eating locally caught fish and seafood due to the possibility of contamination.

The public was asked not to fish from the shoreline or within the Bay of Gibraltar as a precaution.

For now, Camp Bay, Little Bay and Rosia Bay remain closed to the public for swimming while the coastal clean-up is underway, although the pools at Camp Bay are open for public use.

Beach attendants normally posted to these areas have been redeployed to other areas in order to meet increased public demand, including the Europa Pool and the Bathing Pavilion.

The Government thanked the public for its patience and understanding and said it was working to reduce the impact on the bathing season as far as reasonably possible.

The Minister for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento, said: “I’d like to thank and commend all those whose quick action has brought the impact of yesterday’s oil spill under control.”

“Significant progress has been made so far and the clear aim for today is to mitigate the risk of shoreside heavy oil washing back into the sea.”

“I’d also like to thank our local NGOs for their support and work alongside the Gibraltar Port Authority, the Department of Environment and Brightside in the clean-up effort, and not least, the public for their understanding as we work to limit the environmental damage and impact on the bathing season.”

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