The Gibraltar authorities do not rule out that various residues from the semi-sunken ship in the Rock could cause new black spots on its coastline or on the Bay of Algeciras, given that an airtight solution for these operations will be unavoidable.
This is what the local government says after a new meeting of the crisis cabinet created in the Rock, which insists on establishing a maximum shielding of the perimeter that surrounds the ship, although it is not impregnable.
On the other hand, an ingress of water in the engine room, which could be under control at the time of writing this information, has been hindering the extraction of the remaining fuel in the bulk carrier SO35, semi-sunken in Gibraltar.
This has been reported by the Government of the Rock in a statement in which it does not rule out that once the ship’s two tanks have been emptied, some residual amounts of oil could reach the sea and generate new polluting discharges, but of little importance.
The entry of water into the engine room affects the pumping operation, since “the ship’s own systems cannot currently be used safely to pump the fuel.”
“Instead, the rescuers will have to resort to independent systems outside the ship at this stage,” they point out from the Contingency Council created by the Gibraltarian Government, a crisis cabinet that met again this Saturday. They are investigating the origin of the water ingress in the engine room.”
The Government also indicates that “work is being done to eliminate any non-essential material that could increase pollution levels.”
In fact, the extraction of the fuel from Tank 2, which began yesterday, has not yet been completed: “Although most of the fuel has already been successfully extracted, the operation has been substantially slowed down by this latest event and now they are extracting residual amounts of fuel.
“The Harbor Master is deploying additional levels of layered containment around OS 35. This involves an ongoing operation to deploy 1 km of barrier around the vessel.”
This barrier is being deployed by the Spanish Maritime Salvage at the request of the Port Captain by the pollution control vessel “Clara Campoamor”, a Don Inda class tugboat.
“Further barrier placement operations will continue around OS 35 and elsewhere in the vicinity of the vessel and in any areas requiring additional protection as soon as operationally possible. The key priority in preparing for the operation to remove fuel oil from OS 35 Tank 1 is to have successful layered containment to the highest possible level around the vessel.”
This is a precautionary measure in view of the fact that the fuel stain that reached the Gibraltar and La Linea coast last Thursday managed to exceed three anti-pollution barriers: “The objective of this operational task is to try to avoid as much as possible the discharge of the as much free-floating oil as possible and uncontrolled seepage into open waters,” the Gibraltarian authorities point out.
“Once this containment is established to the satisfaction of the Harbor Master, the salvagers will be able to proceed with the job of removing as much fuel as cleanly as possible from the vessel’s Tank 1.”
As the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, who chaired the Contingency Council, has indicated these days, the indications of the experts are substantial when making decisions. And they note that continued oil and sediment seepage is unavoidable: “Current advice is that while rescuers wait to remove fuel from the ship, the ship’s fuel tanks will remain dirty. This means that there will be residual amounts of fuel in the tanks, and as a result (given the deformed state of some parts of the ship’s hull), the continual leaching of small amounts of contaminating material from the OS 35 during the period when remain in situ”, underlines the note released this afternoon by the Gibraltarian Government.
“Deploying layered booms around the vessel will prevent the maximum amount of seepage into open water, but will not provide an airtight containment layer, which is not technologically possible to provide.”
Given the arguments of the Government of Gibraltar, new stains can be expected in the sea during the next few hours, since it is not possible to think that “absolute control of pollution” will be easy in this operation to salvage the ship and its contents. .
“The goal of layered containment is to limit leaks as much as possible. However, it is unrealistic to expect that some seepage outside the barriers will not occur into the surrounding open water, despite the best possible strategy of layered containment, experts say. The advice is that this is the unfortunate but unavoidable situation that arises from this incident. Therefore, this situation will continue for the rest of the summer and until the salvage operation is completed.”
The removal of the layer of oil contained in the anti-pollution barriers is also not, in any case, one hundred percent perfect: “The defoaming operations are continuous, but they have limits as to what they can achieve. Skimming inside the boom near the ship is succeeding. Veil in open water is currently light, meaning it needs to be herded into denser patches in order to be picked up.”
To help in these operations, a small, purpose-built catamaran boat, which can operate 24 hours a day, is on its way from Cádiz with a double crew and is expected to arrive and be operational this Saturday: “This boat is capable of skim any oil it finds directly, including the light layer in open water.”
Its mission is to address the areas of contamination identified by the overflights carried out by the Helimer and by the Spanish Departments of the Environment, with the intervention of the Port Authority of the Bay of Algeciras. This unprecedented collaboration in an event of this type can give a measure of the seriousness of the case or of the institutional relaxation that is being experienced now, on the eve of determining the final signing of a Treaty that establishes the new relations between the Rock and the rest of the European Union, at least for the next four years.
The Government of Gibraltar recognizes in fact the “close coordination” between the two port authorities of the Bay, that of the Rock and that of Algeciras, when it comes to gathering “all the available resources that can help the operational tasks required by the Captaincy of the Port in support of ongoing salvage and pollution prevention and control operations.
While no new contamination spots have been reported on the Spanish coast, the Gibraltar Department of the Environment, headed by John Cortés, is leading “the clean-up operations on land and is actively working with volunteers and non-governmental organizations to coordinate and manage shoreline cleanup efforts safely.
This Sunday, a cleanup of the Gibraltarian coastline is planned in collaboration between said organization and the ecological organizations ESG, GONHS and the Nautilus Project. The Government of Gibraltar has, in fact, opened a registration campaign for such work: thus, people who wish to volunteer should write to the Department of the Environment at [email protected] with their name, contact details and any particular skills or experience that may be relevant.