Gibraltar Detains Bulker as it Cleans Bunkering Oil Spill

oil spill from bunkering in Gibraltar Bay
Gibraltar Bay (HM Government of Gibraltar)

Published Feb 16, 2021 5:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

Gibraltar is working to contain and clean up an oil split believed to have come from a bulker that was fueling in the anchorage. Calling it the first oil spill in many years to impact the inner harbor and surrounding areas, the government of Gibraltar has detained the vessel being blamed for the incident.

“Every attempt is being made to ensure that the waters within the surrounding areas of our port and coastline are being cleared as soon as possible,” said the Captain of the Port, Manuel Tirado.  “The vessel will be detained until we are satisfied that they take full responsibility for the incident.”

While the government has declined to name the vessel in its public statements, the Gibraltar media is reporting that the spill happened on February 12 as a Liberian flagged bulk carrier the AM Ghent was fueling in British waters on the Gibraltar side of the bay. A venting value reportedly failed during the fueling operation causing an undetermined amount of fuel to enter the bay. The 93,168 dwt bulker had arrived in Gibraltar the prior day from Italy and remains in the port four days after the accident.

The government reports that it is considering all options to seek full recovery for the costs including not ruling out prosecution under the provisions of the Port Rules.

The Minister for the Port, Hon Vijay Daryanani MP, said, “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. 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. I would like to thank the general public and in particular our boat owners for being so understanding and supportive of the work being done.”

The Gibraltar Port Authority (GPA) in conjunction with other agencies and with assistance from the private sector has been working to clean up the oil spill. Initially, they focused on redeploying assets to combat the oil, which was in the inner harbor, working to collect all the free floating oil. The effort was expanded to retrieving oil and debris, any stagnant fuel patches around the harbor area. 

This week the teams have continued their clean up efforts collecting free floating oil from South mole corner, Small Boats Marina, Western arm, Rosia bay and other small isolated patches in the inner harbor. As they have been able to contain and remove the free floating oil, they have also started on cleaning elements including quay walls and property damaged by this spill. The government is assuring residents that this will continue until all oil is recovered and the coast line is fully restored.

A popular port frequently used by vessels for refueling, Gibraltar reports that it has undertaken efforts to clean and restore the waters and coastal areas. The Minister for the Environment said, “Over the last ten years the marine life in our harbor had come back in strength and it was becoming a key wildlife area.”

The government also reported that the Captain of the Port has been in constant contact with port operators and with the Captain of the Port of Algeciras, while they refuted claims that oil from this spill is present on land on the Spanish side of the bay.