Oil Barge Sinks Off Gibraltar

ALGECIRAS BAY, Gibraltar, January 21, 2003 (ENS) - The oil barge Spabunker IV, sank this morning in Algeciras Bay with a load of 900 metric tons of fuel oil. Sources on the site say there is no leak from the cargo, but gas oil from the barge’s fuel tank is leaking. The Port Authority at Gibraltar has pointed to bad weather conditions as a possible cause of the accident.

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The Spabunker IV (Photo courtesy The Boluda Group)
The Spabunker IV is owned by Ciresa Bunker SA, based in Spain. It has a cargo capacity of 1,300 metric tons. This is not the barge's first brush with disaster. In August 2002, the Spabunker IV was involved in a previous accident.

The sinking of the Spabunker IV serves to highlight the weakness of current maritime legislation regarding the transport of dangerous materials, the environmental organization Greenpeace said today.

“Accidents like this will continue to happen as long as no one is held accountable for material and environmental damages,” said Juan Lopez de Uralde of Greenpeace in Gibralter on board the MV Esperanza. “With this attitude, irresponsible individuals can just wash the oil off their hands and go on to pollute another ocean.”

Gibraltar is the leading Mediterranean port for transferring of fuel, supplying over 2.7 million tons of fuel annually. Algeciras, Spain is second in line, supplying just over 1.5 million tons of fuel.

Gibraltar has a good record with regard to oil spills, and has invested heavily in equipment to deal with them. Search and rescue craft from Gibraltar went out to assist the stricken Spanish barge.

“This is one more example of leaks in Algeciras Bay due to fuel transfer that usually go unpunished,” added Lopez de Uralde. “Despite continuos complaints about spills in the harbour, the number of sanctions is minimum. All of this points to the permissive atmosphere in which the oil industry acts.”

The sinking occurred the day after Greenpeace activists boarded the single hull oil tanker Vemamagna in Algeciras Bay to highlight the permanent presence of single hull ships in the area. They climbed the mast with banners reading "Oil Hazard" in English and Spanish. Twenty people were arrested. Fourteen were released, and six appeared in court today.

De Uralde says despite the sinking of the tanker Prestige in November off the Galician coast of Spain, European policy regarding the transport of hazardous substances has not changed substantially. "Another catastrophe can occur at any time, and Algeciras Bay is literally a time bomb waiting to explode," he said. "We want an urgent and total ban on single hull tankers and the establishment of a new regime of unlimited responsibility."

About 10 percent of all international maritime traffic crosses the Strait of Gibraltar. According to Spanish government figures, in 2001 some 56,670 merchant ships crossed the strait. Around 5,000 oil tankers travel the same route per year - about 10 to 15 oil tankers a day.