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Danish and Panamanian Vessels Collide

The Danish product tanker Torm Gertrude and the Panamanian cargo vessel New Flame collided just south of Europa Point, Gibraltar early Sunday, August 12. The Torm Gertrude was heading inbound for the Port of Algeciras, Spain from the Eastern Mediterranean, while the New Flame, carrying scrap metal, had just left Gibraltar en route to Turkey. Both ships sustained damage, but the Danish vessel was able to continue to Algeciras, where the Gibraltar government reports it is in “safe condition.” The damage to the New Flame caused the vessel to take on water and begin sinking by the bow. The ship’s bow is currently resting on a nearby reef, which it drifted to after the collision, while the rest of the vessel is afloat in the water.

When the New Flame began sinking, all 23 members of her crew abandoned ship safely, though some reportedly had to be taken to a nearby hospital. The Gibraltar Port Authority immediately activated its Emergency Response Plan and the Minister for Shipping, Joe Holliday, has been at the scene since Sunday. The Gibraltar Maritime Administration has also begun an investigation into the incident, especially since the New Flame left the Port of Gibraltar without the necessary clearance. Additionally, according to an August 13 Government of Gibraltar press release, “the Royal Gibraltar Police have arrested the Master of the Vessel, Captain D Konstantinos on suspicion of conduct likely to endanger shipping under the Merchant Shipping Act of Gibraltar.” He was remanded into custody and appeared before the Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, August 14, but the case was then adjourned until August 28.

Gibraltar Maritime Surveyors performed a full onboard inspection, while divers inspected the ship’s hull. Gibraltar officials met with the owners of the New Flame and salvage experts from Tsalviris Salvage Group to determine a salvage plan. The first part of the plan involves removing the ship’s fuel in order to reduce the risk of an oil spill. The tug Hua-An arrived in Gibraltar on Tuesday, August 14, and another tug, Fotiy Krylov, is expected to arrive on Friday, August 17. The de-fueling operation, which began today, is using the ship’s own pumping system to pump the fuel to a bunker barge. Officials hope to have transferred all of the fuel by the end of the week, weather permitting. According to an official August 16 press release, “The salvage experts have reported that steady progress is being made and the operation is proceeding according to plan. Salvage experts and naval architects are presently investigating the condition of the ship to decide how to deal with the vessel and her cargo once the fuel has been removed.”

The press release also states that the fuel will be “disposed of in an environmentally-friendly manner” and “all safety measures to protect the environment are in place.” These measures include oil-skimming equipment around the bunker barge and the stern of the New Flame, as well as a 210-meter boom. Regardless, many environmental groups have expressed worries over this incident and conditions in the area in general. The Official Environmental Safety Group (ESG) released a press release on Tuesday, August 14, which states that the ESG “has frequently called for highest possible standards to be applied to all operations at sea well aware of the growing risk of accidents in a visibly congested Bay. Traffic through the Straits sees around 100,000 vessels per year adding to the risk factor. This is all taking place in an area of outstanding natural beauty rich in biodiversity and must be protected.”

The ESG, and other groups like it, fear that this incident is just one of many potential “ecological disasters” that could occur if the government does not “take whatever steps are necessary to eliminate these risks.” Nevertheless, Minister Joe Holliday stated in a August 14 press release, “I wish to assure the public that the Government is taking all the necessary measures and leaving no stone unturned to ensure the highest level of safety standards and the very minimum risk to the environment.”

Photo © DM Parody (http://dotcom.gi/photos)