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Captain Fined in Gibraltar Oil Spill as Environmentalists Question Outcome

Gibraltar oil spill
Oil spill seen spreading in the water from the Gas Venus (Gibraltar Port Authority)

Published Aug 31, 2023 5:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

A magistrate in Gibraltar ordered the captain of the gas tanker Gas Venus, which was involved in an oil spill in the harbor at the beginning of the month, to pay a fine. This came after the captain of the vessel agreed to plead guilty during his hearing on the charges of causing pollution. Environmentalists in the British colony however are questioning how the case was handled and the broader history of oil pollution in the busy bunker port.

The tanker Gas Venus was bunkering in Gibraltar with a fuel vessel alongside on August 1 when the spill occurred. Officials speaking in the court estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 liters were released into the water with some of it washing up onto two beaches. The port was temporarily closed and the clean-up of the beaches lasted for several days.

The court was told during the hearing on August 29, that the spill was due to an overflow of the fuel tank on the Gas Venus. According to the report, they determined that the Chief Officer, who was to electronically observe the fueling operation of the vessel, failed to observe the increase in the gauges indicating the fuel level. In addition, an alarm that should have sounded when the tank reached 85 percent capacity failed to sound, despite working correctly before the fueling and in a test afterward.

The fueling was happening unattended at the time of the spill, a point the environmentalists are highlighting. The court was told that the oiler aboard the Gas Venus who was assigned to the duty was attending to another alarm for a different system when the spill occurred. Environmentalists are questioning why it happened unobserved and why the crew aboard the supply vessel bore no responsibility.

Based on data supplied to the court that the fuel spilled at the rate of 60 liters a second, the spill lasted between 30 seconds and one minute at maximum. It however left a large oil stain as it ran down the side of the tanker and a trail of oil was seen coming from the vessel near the South Mole.

The master of the Gas Venus, a Korean national, Sangsob Kim, age 56, was detained by Gibraltar after the spill. He was later charged with one count for the discharge or release of the oil into the water and a second count for damaging the “resting place of a wild animal of a European protected species.” The court recognized his early guilty plea and as a result, reduced the fine by a third from £30,000 to £20,000 (approximately $25,000). The fine must be paid by September 30 or Kim would be required to serve 12 months in jail.

The shipping company, KSS Line, told the court it would cover any financial penalty. In addition to paying Kim’s fine, they also agreed to cover the costs of the cleanup posting a bond to release the ship. Reports are the company has agreed to pay £1.5 million ($1.9 million) for the cleanup. The Gas Venus was released 10 days after the spill and the court ordered the return of the captain’s travel documents this week.

A representative of the environmental group The Nautilus Project told a reporter from GBC News that the group was investigating Gibraltar’s history of oil spills. They questioned the limited consequences of the recent spill noting only the captain and none of the crew or the supply vessel had experienced any consequences from this spill. The group is calling for the money from the fines to be used for new equipment, additional personnel training, and a wider array of response measures as they seek to eliminate or reduce future spills.