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Work continues on wreck of OS 35 as Govt confirms details of fuel quantities removed from vessel

Salvors remove fuel oil from a storage tank on the wreck of the OS 35 on Monday. Photos by Johnny Bugeja.

Salvors working on the wreck of the OS 35 confirmed on Monday evening that all volumes of pumpable oil have been extracted from the beached ship, except for some product that remains in one of its fuel tanks.

The vessel was carrying 222 tonnes of low sulphur fuel oil and 255 tonnes of diesel, all for its own use. In litres, that is the equivalent of nearly 525,422 litres of mixed products.

By Monday evening, salvors had managed to extract a total of 434,000 litres of those products.

What is left are some 91,421 litres of fuel oil, some in a forward tank, some at the stern of the vessel.

“With the exception of Tank 2 [at the stern] the salvors are confident that all concentrations of pumpable oil have been extracted, including those in the main engine room tanks,” the Gibraltar Government said in its latest update.

“Some product remains in Tank 2, which the salvors plan to attempt to extract.”

“There are still small tanks around the ship with small quantities that need to be emptied.”

“These small tanks are not expected to be holding large quantities of oil.”

Divers are investigating the presence of any oil concentrations in void spaces and non-tank spaces within the hull.

Any significant quantities will also be pumped out if that is possible.

But even empty, the Gibraltar Government said the wreck would still pose a pollution risk.

“It is important to outline that whilst the majority of fuel has been removed from the vessel, continued discharge of pollutants is expected until the time that the salvage operations are complete,” it said in the update.

The figures are based on the volumes declared by the vessel at the time it was beached following a collision in the bay with the liquefied natural gas carrier Adam LNG.

Those figures are not necessarily accurate. The ship, for example, had declared it was carrying 290,267 litres of diesel, whereas the salvors extracted 310,000 litres.

“In the same way as more diesel oil has been extracted than was declared as being on board, the situation could arise where there was less fuel oil on board in reality than was declared,” No.6 Convent Place said.

“Additionally, the figures extracted may include water mixed with oil in the vessel's tanks before extraction.”

The government said water ingress into the engine room, which had hindered operations on Saturday, was now under control and “very light”.

Work continues to empty the wreck of other inventory that could wash up on the shore in the event that the ship deteriorates and breaks up.

Work so far has been assisted by a southwesterly breeze that has kept pollution away from the coast and allowed support vessels time to collect it at sea.

But the weather is due to change on Friday to Levanter which, albeit calm, will add urgency to the clean-up operation.

“The salvors and the Captain of the Port have advised that the majority of the fuel has been removed from the OS 35 and that the second stage of the salvage operation – to recover as much of the vessel’s contents and cargo as safely possible - will now commence,” the Gibraltar Government said.

“The Government will therefore review its Major Incident posture with a view to seeking to step it down [on Tuesday].”

“This will allow the Captain of the Port to re-establish normal port operations insofar as will not interfere with continued pollution prevention and salvage operations.”

“The assistance of the Spanish authorities, Salvamento Maritimo and SASEMAR will continue to be required and are appreciated through this recovery phase of the salvage operation.”

At sea on Monday, in choppy waters and buffeted by southwesterly winds, salvors continued work on board and support vessels and skimmers towed booms to collect any floating oil, although there were no signs of pollution on the surface.

Separately, The Gibraltar Port Authority and vessels from Spain’s Salvamento Maritimo worked to replace the secondary boom around the wreck after it became displaced overnight.

The GPA and Salvamento Maritimo are working to source heavier sinkers for this boom that will increase its resilience against strong winds.

The boom at Catalan Bay was also displaced, but is not damaged and has been re-laid.

Two trucks from UK-based clean-up specialists OSRL arrived on Monday morning carrying both offshore and onshore oil response equipment.

At sea, a total of approximately 21,000 litres of fuel has been recovered via skimming since the collision on Tuesday last week.

Most of this has been recovered from inside the first inner boom around the wreck.

This includes 2000 litres recovered overnight from a heavy concentration within the inner boom.

The catamaran Horizon has so far recovered approximately 4000 litres from the free-floating sheen.

The vessel returned to operations this morning following technical issues last night that prevented works continuing overnight.

The Horizon is currently targeting free floating oil patches outside the second layer of booms.

There are now five vessels in the area with sorbent booms deployed and a further two pairs in J formation.

Active skimming work continues directly on the deck of the OS 35, which is working to recover dark oily patches before they reach the first boom.

Drone images from Monday morning show heavy concentrations of oil are no longer as prevalent within the inner boom.

The significant progress on skimming inside the inner boom is also evident from drone images early Monday afternoon, with the density of dark patches decreasing.

“This is positive evidence that there is no significant new discharge of fuel from the vessel,” the government said.

On shore, red flags remained in place at Little Bay and Sandy Bay while clean-up efforts continued.

The situation at those beaches is being kept under constant review.

Other beaches remain clear and the boom at Mid Harbours Marina will be removed.