Campo Gets Off Lightly As Gibraltar-Based Fuel Ships Run Aground

Two Gibraltar-based fuel tankers ran aground in nearby Spain during yesterday's heavy weather; no injuries or pollution have been reported, but environmentalists from Gibraltar and Spain criticise the lack of marine safety, the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today.
vermaoil xxi aground spain

According to the newspaper both vessels had been at anchorage off Gibraltar, but due to foul weather one of them dragged anchor and unhooked the others' chain: The empty Vermaoil XXI, a 6,000-tonne bunker tanker, came to a halt just metres before the rocky wharf in La Linea de La Concepcion, the 3,000-tonne product tanker Vermaoil IX carried a heavy fuel load and ran aground a few meters further out.

Both Spanish tug boats from the port in Algeciras and vessels from Gibraltar immediately came to the scene to free the tankers and tow them to the Spanish port, the Chronicle wrote, adding that Vermoil "has been asked to post a €200,000 bond per ship for the release of the vessels". A spokesman for the Algeciras harbour authority told Chronicle reporter Brian Reyes that the harbour authority is in doubt whether the watch-keeping at the ships was adequate at the time of the incident; the investigation now aims to shed light on these circumstances. According to the Chronicle, the authorities from both sides of the border cooperate closely in this investigation.

Criticism From Environmentalists

As highlighted by reporter Reyes, Gibraltar and the Campo had to deal with "a string of major maritime casualties" over the past three years, among others these "include the foundering of the New Flame and the Fedra off Gibraltar, and the grounding of the Sierra Nava and the Tawe in Algeciras" - in total more than six million tonnes of fuel are delivered every year from operators on both sides of the bay. Accordingly, environmentalists from Gibraltar and Spain as well as Greenpeace voiced displeasure regarding marine safety measures in the bay and the latest incident.

Dr Eric Shaw, Chairman of our charity the Helping Hand Trust, was quoted in the Chronicle, saying: "We knew it would happen again. We’ve been lucky this time but we never seem to learn the lessons."

The Gibraltarian Environmental Safety Group (ESG) likewise voiced concern about the cumulative maritime accidents due to foul wheather: ESG spokesman Janet Howitt told the Chronicle that "there is a clear need for stricter controls. Real-time monitoring of all vessels 24 hours a day is vital so that any ships adrift and in trouble can be picked up early and action taken promptly".

According to the Chronicle Greenpeace complained about "administrative incompetence", while Spanish environmentalists intend to file formal complaints over the aground tankers. A spokesman for Verdemar Ecologistas en Acción told the newspaper, that the authorities should be more active "in the face of a constant threat of pollution".

Criticism And Contra From The Authorities

Major of La Linea, Alejandro Sánchez, also appeared to be concerned about the incidents and commented in the Gibraltar Chronicle: "Sooner or later we are going to have a maritime tragedy in the bay if we don’t take effective measures."

The authorities on both sides of the border exempt themselves from criticism and told the newspaper that both shipping and bunkering activities are closely monitored and regulated; at the same time Gibraltar, Spain and the UK are working on joint protocols to optimise maritime cooperation and plan to conduct "joint cross-border anti-pollution exercises" in 2010.