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Pollution warning as OS 35 salvors brace for weekend storm

Bad weather expected on Sunday and Monday could further break up the wreck of the OS 35, with salvors drawing up plans to mitigate the impact on the beached cargo ship amid concerns about new marine pollution.

The Gibraltar Port Authority and salvage company Resolve Marine, supported by other Gibraltar-based maritime companies and Spanish state salvage tugs, have worked round-the-clock to clean the vessel of oil and other potential pollutants.

But while the bulk of the ship’s fuel oil, diesel and lubricant stores have been pumped off the wreck, some residues and trapped oils remain.

The fear is that stormy seas could further impact on the already-weakened hull and release any remaining pollutants into the sea.

On Tuesday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was briefed on the developing situation.

“The briefing was in anticipation of the adverse weather conditions that are forecast for Sunday and Monday, and are such that may affect the structural integrity of the OS 35 in its current position,” No.6 Convent Place said in an information update.

“The Gibraltar Port Authority, together with the salvors, Resolve, are exploring all realistic options to minimise pollution that may be caused as an inevitable result of adverse weather, to the maximum extent that this is possible.”

The government said it would release details of the plans to mitigate the impact of the weather on the wreck in the coming days.

But as reported last week, the Chronicle understands one option is to make the ship heavier and more stable by flooding it.

The OS 35 was carrying a cargo of steel rebars when it grounded 700m off Catalan Bay following a collision in the Bay of Gibraltar.

Unloading that cargo is one of the steps under consideration as part of longer-term plans to remove the wreck.

But emptying the ship at this stage would lighten it and make it more susceptible to damage if battered by wind and waves.

The bow section of the ship is resting on the seabed but the stern remains buoyant and the Chronicle understands one solution being considered is to flood the vessel to make it more resilient to bad weather while salvage options are considered and arrangements put in place.

The “crumpled” state of the hull means towing it out of location would risk breaking the vessel and makes any plan to re-float the ship highly complex and unlikely.

On Tuesday, another key factor under consideration was how to respond to any pollutants released as a result of the storm.

“As previously advised by the Captain of the Port, there are still expected to be pockets of unrecoverable, unpumpable fuel residues onboard the vessel that are and will continue to be an ongoing source of sheening,” No.6 said in the update.

“This was expected and is unpreventable.”

“In the event of adverse weather, it is realistic to expect that these may release.”

“There is a likelihood that swells will push some of this fuel towards the shoreline.”

“The Captain of the Port and Gibraltar Government departments and agencies are working to mitigate the effects of adverse weather conditions as far as possible.”

“The Gibraltar Port and the Department of Environment will conduct monitoring operations throughout adverse weather conditions in order to mobilise response and clean-up operations as soon as they are possible and viable.”

No.6 said containment booms around the vessel were now “dirty and soiled” and were themselves a source of oil sheening.

The outer boom will be replaced but will have to be removed ahead of the bad weather, which would make them ineffective and risk them breaking up and causing pollution.

Likewise, given the end of the official bathing season, beach booms will be removed before the weekend storm to avoid them breaking up and becoming a source of debris and contamination.

“The public should be aware that adverse weather conditions may result in pollution from the OS 35 making its way onto the shores of our beaches,” No.6 said.

Any such pollution should be reported to the Environmental Protection & Research Unit on 58009620.

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