Government warns of ‘unavoidable’ further pollution after engine room OS 35 flooded, slowing fuel evacuation

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The OS 35 wreckage salvage operation suffered a setback on Saturday afternoon after the ship’s engine room flooded, preventing rescuers from using on-board equipment to help extract the remaining quantities of heavy fuel oil.

As clean-up operations continued at sea and additional booms were placed around the wreckage, the Gibraltar government warned that further pollution was likely ‘inevitable’.

Dive teams were investigating the source of the water ingress and the pumping operation was continuing using equipment on the vessels involved in the salvage operation, although at a slower pace.

At the same time, rescuers worked to slow the invasion and attempted to empty the engine room, with some success.

Mechanical equipment from OS 35 that could add to pollution from oily residues in the engine room has also been removed where possible.

During the night, the teams working on the wreck had succeeded in emptying most of the heavy fuel oil into the aft storage tank of OS 35, after having previously evacuated all the quantities of diesel on board.

But there are still about 126 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in the forward tank of OS 35, an area of ​​the wreckage that is submerged.

This means that it will prove more complicated to empty this tank, with rescuers considering different options for tapping into the area and extracting the fuel oil in the coming days.

OS 35 was carrying 215 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, 250 tonnes of diesel fuel and 27 tonnes of lubricating oil when it ran aground 700m off Catalan Bay on Tuesday morning to prevent it from sinking after its hull was damaged during a collision with the liquefied natural liquid. gas carrier Adam LNG.

In addition to the remaining fuel oil, the wreck still contains lubricating oils and a cargo of steel bars.

The Adam LNG, which suffered only minor damage to its bulbous bow in the collision, is currently moored at the Crinavis shipyard in Campamento for repairs.

On Saturday afternoon, the Gibraltar government issued a stark warning that the operation in the coming days would be complex and dynamic, and that further pollution was likely despite efforts to contain any spillage into the sea.

Even after the tanks have been emptied, the residual amounts of fuel oil and the ship’s ‘wrinkled’ hull mean that continued infiltration of small amounts of pollutants is ‘almost entirely unavoidable’ until the ship is removed.

“The deployment of layered booms around the vessel will prevent the amount of seepage into open waters to the highest possible level, but they will not provide a watertight containment layer, which is not technologically possible to provide” , the government of Gibraltar said in its latest update.

“In this regard, it should be noted that all options for the salvage operation are suboptimal in terms of absolute pollution control.”

“The goal of layered containment is to limit infiltration as much as possible.”

“It cannot realistically be expected, however, that there will be no seepage out of the dams into the surrounding open waters, despite the best possible strategy of layered containment.”

“The advice is that this is the unfortunate but unavoidable situation resulting from this incident.”

“So this situation will now continue for the rest of the summer and until the rescue operation is complete.”

An additional 1 km boom was deployed on Saturday to surround the vessel.

The boom was deployed by the Spanish state maritime rescue vessel Clara Campoamor, which joined another Spanish vessel, the Luz de Mar, which has been there since Tuesday.

Further barrage operations will continue around OS 35 and elsewhere near the vessel and any areas requiring additional protection as soon as operationally possible.

The key priority in preparing for the heavy fuel oil extraction operation from the forward tank of OS 35 is to have successful layered containment at the highest possible level around the vessel.

The goal is to avoid floating oil leakage as much as possible.

The front tank fuel removal operation will not begin until this additional arrow is in place.

At sea, skimming operations have continued but the government has acknowledged that they are “limited in what they can achieve”.

The shard is light, which means it needs to be grouped into denser patches for collection.

To help with these operations, a purpose-built small catamaran launch that can operate 24/7 is en route from Cádiz with a double crew and is expected to arrive and be operational later on Saturday.

This ship is capable of skimming any oil it encounters directly, including light sheen in open water.

It will be directed to flashpoint areas identified by overflights carried out to assist the GPA by the Ministry of the Environment and a Spanish helicopter which is deployed by the port of Algeciras in support of ongoing operations.

“The GPA brings together all available resources that can assist in the operational task required by the Harbor Master in support of ongoing salvage and pollution prevention and control operations,” the Government of Gibraltar said.

“The Port of Algeciras continues to work in close coordination with the GPA to establish if any of the assets it has are suitable and to determine deployment timelines.”

Spanish maritime authorities have had a close relationship with their counterparts in Gibraltar since shortly after Tuesday’s collision.

On Saturday, amid some criticism of Gibraltar’s response to the incident, the Spanish government’s senior maritime official welcomed Gibraltar’s decision to anchor OS 35 in shallow water on the eastern side of the Rock.

Benito Nuñez, director general of the Spanish Merchant Navy Directorate, oversees the country’s maritime emergency and rescue services.

In an interview with El Pais, he said grounding the ship was the right decision and meant salvage and pollution response operations would be easier.

“We can talk about details, but the maneuver was not incorrect,” he told El Pais.

“In the event of a shipwreck, a ship at 200 meters depth is not the same as [a vessel] at 17 meters.

“Everything is easier when it’s close, the same when it comes to containing pollution.”

“The visuals are more dramatic and distracting, but that’s better.”

Spanish tugs and aerial surveillance assets worked closely with Gibraltar authorities and helped contain pollution at sea to minimize the amount of oil reaching shore.

“We proposed and they accepted,” Mr Nuñez said, describing how Gibraltar port captain John Ghio contacted his Algeciras counterpart Karim Breir shortly after the collision.

“They had a very constructive attitude.”

“They kept us informed.”

“Gibraltar has made an effort to provide information.”

Mr Nuñez said it was important to learn from incidents like this, but it was too early to draw a conclusion about what led to the collision.

“I’m not one to make quick value judgments without rigorous analysis, without having all the elements,” he says.

“As with every accident, there will be all the necessary investigations and, from there, conclusions will be drawn.”

On land, the Department of the Environment leads shoreline cleanup operations and actively works with volunteers and non-governmental organizations to coordinate and safely manage shoreline cleanup efforts.

Lewis Stagnetto, the founder of marine conservation charity The Nautilus Project, said teams of volunteers had been monitoring the coastline on both sides of the Rock since very early in the morning.

Reports coming in were “fluid”, he said, and although there was evidence of oil and some tar bird sightings, most areas were relatively clear at this stage and the impact on wildlife limited.

The concern, however, is how the situation will develop in the coming days.

Amid widespread public concern over the environmental impact, a shoreline cleanup is planned for Sunday in conjunction with ESG, GONHS and the Nautilus Project.

Individuals wishing to volunteer should write to the Department of Environment at [email protected] with their name, contact details and any special skills or experience that may be relevant.

Any sightings of oiled seabirds should be reported to the EPRU on 58009620.

Absorbent boom has been deployed to protect Sandy Bay, where there are signs of shine. A dam had already been deployed earlier this week to protect Catalan Bay.

Separately, AquaGib carried out a dive inspection early Saturday morning in Little Bay, which confirmed that the salt water intakes for the reverse osmosis plants were unaffected.


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