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Oil spill ship detained as clean-up continues

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

The ship that caused an oil spill last Friday will be detained in Gibraltar waters until the Gibraltar Government can recover the costs of a clean-up operation over the bank holiday weekend.

Specialist vessels and teams on land have been busy scooping up fuel oil from the sea and the shoreline following the spill.

Much of the oil drifted into the harbour basin but there were patches spotted out in the bay including in the area of Rosia Bay.

Dr John Cortes, the Minister for the Environment, acknowledged the impact of the spill on wildlife, particularly inside the harbour.

“Over the last ten years the marine life in our harbour had come back in strength and it was becoming a key wildlife area,” he said.

“This is a significant setback which we are monitoring closely and we are working hard to minimise the impact as much as possible.”

“But it will take time to recover.”

The spill appears to have been caused by a valve problem on the Liberian-flag bulk carrier AM Ghent during a bunkering operation while anchored in British waters in the Bay of Gibraltar.

An anti-pollution operation involving vessels from Gibraltar and Spain tried to contain the spilt fuel to prevent it from reaching shore.

But an oily sheen stretched across much of the north end of the bay over the weekend, while inside Gibraltar harbour thick tendrils of black gunk floated on the water emitting a powerful fuel smell.

Booms were stretched across the entrance of marinas inside the harbour to limit the amount of spill that could drift inside and damage boats.

A specialist vessel sucked up the fuel floating on the surface, although the size of the spill is significant and the was work was ongoing on Monday.

“I am very satisfied with the work being done by all those involved and this will not stop until the oil has been cleaned up fully,” said Vijay Daryanani, the Minister for the Port.

“It is disappointing to see any sort of oil spill in our bay and thankfully they are rare.”

“I will make sure that we carry out a full investigation into how this accident occurred as soon as possible.”

There is some controversy too surrounding the early response to the spill, after Spanish media reports claimed authorities in Gibraltar had taken too long to alert their Spanish counterparts.

Just after midday on Friday, vessels from Spain’s Salvamento Maritimo approached the area of the Western Arm and extended a boom to stop the fuel from drifting toward La Linea.

There were claims in Spain that some oil had reached the shoreline in La Linea, but the Gibraltar Government said there were “not credible”.

According to Spanish press reports, Spain was not alerted until four hours after the spill and that Royal Navy vessels from the Gibraltar Squadron had initially ordered them to leave British waters.

But authorities in Gibraltar insist Spain was informed as soon as the scale of the spill became evident about an hour after initial incident.

And while the Spanish vessels were asked to hold off initially, they were soon cleared to enter British waters - Spain insists it does not need such clearance – to assist in containing the spill.

“The Captain of the Port has been in constant contact with relevant port operators and with the Captain of the Port of Algeciras, with whom he has had a very fluid communication, having spoken directly on numerous occasions each day since Friday once the extent of the incident became apparent,” said No.6 Convent Place in a statement.

“There is no credible evidence to substantiate reports in some media of oil from this spill being present on land on the Spanish side of the bay.”

Initial estimates are that around 1,000 litres of fuel oil spilt into the sea, although the actual amount has yet to be confirmed by the authorities.

The GPA’s Bunkering Superintendent attended to investigate the issue and the vessel’s operator could face legal action in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

“This is the first spill in Gibraltar in many years, although a number of spills have been occasioned in the Bay, originating from Spanish operators, in that time,” No.6 said.

“The Government is considering all options to seek full recovery for the cost occasioned by the spill of oil.”
“Prosecution under the provisions of the Port Rules has not been ruled out.”

The clean-up operation involves teams and vessels from both the private sector and the public sector.

Some 16 workers from the Joinery and Building Services (GJBS) began the clean-up of the revetments inside the harbour, retrieving oil and debris supervised by the Gibraltar Port Authority’s oil spill contractor, Brightside.

Two bowsers belonging to Brightside and Wastage Products Gibraltar were deployed in the retrieval of any stagnant fuel patches around the harbour area.

On Monday, work continued to collect floating oil from the South Mole corner, the small boats marina, the Western arm, Rosia bay and other small isolated patches in the inner harbour.

“Since the incident, the GPA has deployed eight staff members, Brightside Services Limited has deployed its full work force, the Ministry of Environment has deployed seven staff members and GJBS 16 personnel to exclusively deal with this incident,” No.6 Convent Place said.

“This will continue until all oil is recovered and the coastline is fully restored.”

“All costs attributed to this incident will be recovered from the vessel and until such time that payment is received the vessel will remain detained in BGTW.”

Mr Daryanani thanked the general public and boat owners in particular, the latter being unable to use their vessels due to booms across the entrance to marinas.

If any boat owners have experienced any losses as a result of this incident, they should contact the office of the Captain of Port, No.6 said.

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