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Spanish Authorities Divert and Detain Tanker for Discharging Petroleum

oily sheen
Smithsonian file image

Published Jun 17, 2021 8:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Spanish authorities have diverted and detained a tanker for discharging petroleum on the high seas about 150 miles off Las Palmas, and its operator may be facing a record-setting fine.

On Monday, Spain's Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (Mitma) announced that its General Directorate of the Merchant Marine (DGMM) had ordered the master of the tanker Aldan - which was under way in the Mediterranean, bound for Piraeus - to divert to Almeria. A Spanish naval vessel escorted the tanker into port in order to "supervise compliance with the order at all times."

10 days earlier, a satellite operated by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) observed the Aldan allegedly carrying out an illegal discharge of hydrocarbons at a position about 150 miles to the northwest of La Palma - within Spain's EEZ. According to the ministry, the spill contaminated about 20 square miles of the sea. 

The Maritime Captaincy of Almería has opened an investigation into the vessel's activities and is holding the ship in detention pending the deposit of a bond. Given the size of the pollution event, the agency said that the operator could face "one of the highest sanctions imposed so far by the General Directorate of the Merchant Marine."

Upon the vessel's arrival in Almería, port state control inspectors recorded issues with her sewage plant, radio log, charts, compass, emergency generator, EPIRB, SART, railings, liferafts, drills and ISM code compliance, giving additional grounds for detention. 

The 2003-built Aldan is owned and operated by a single-vessel company in the UAE, Muhit Maritime, which took possession of the ship in December. Aldan has no prior history of detentions. 

Discharging untreated oily waste is an unlawful cost-saving practice, and it has been banned since MARPOL entered into force in 1983. However, it still occurs on a regular basis, particularly in certain regions. Indian government researchers have suggested that intentional discharges from tankers are so common in the Arabian Sea that they are a source of chronic tarball pollution on the shores of Goa.