Gibraltar is the largest bunkering port in the Western Mediterranean. Over four million tonnes of bunkers were delivered in 2011, a 500 per cent increase since 1990, and bunkering is now the main activity within the Port of Gibraltar. But what exactly is oil bunkering, and how does it work? What makes Gibraltar such an attractive port, not just for bunkering, but also for wider marine services, and what role does it play in the local economy?
Bunkering is the internationally regulated practice of the provision of “fuel oil” and “gas oil” to the world’s shipping fleets, for their propulsion and other auxiliary services, as they transport their cargoes around the globe. The industry has had a presence in Gibraltar for many years, originally conceived to supply Royal Navy ships passing through the Rock.
Bunkering takes place at a number of key ports around the world, principally in close proximity to busy shipping lanes, such as those running in and out of the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar.
The process is much like a lorry or truck filling up at the local petrol station, but at sea. In Gibraltar, the fuel is imported by large tanker ships or sourced from across the bay in Spain. Once in Gibraltar, it is taken by licensed bunker barges to the ships anchored in the strictly controlled and sheltered British Gibraltar Territorial waters, west of Gibraltar. Once the barge is alongside the vessel, the product is pumped on-board, following strict international regulations underpinned by locally adopted practices.
The market for bunkering is extremely competitive, as a result of the global economic contraction and the relatively generous availability of fuel. Despite this challenge, those behind the Port of Gibraltar continue to apply proactive and resilient approaches to the marketing of services, which has helped Gibraltar to maintain an edge against its competitors and become the third busiest bunker port in Europe.
Over nine thousand ships called at the Port in 2012
Beyond bunkering, the Port provides a range of support services for any vessel that might call. Dry docking services are on offer, for example, with three docks catering for various sizes of vessels – a popular choice for many ferry companies operating across the Bay and the Straits. The Port is a very popular destination for cruise liners, with around 200 visits a year. It also offers super-yacht retrofitting services. Another interesting fact is that we are a very attractive port for ship arrests, thanks to Gibraltar’s efficient, trusted British legal system.
But it is not just our geographical position, requiring minimum deviation from major routes, which attracts the shipping firms. As the newly appointed CEO and Captain of the Port, I have been struck by Gibraltar’s role as a centre of maritime excellence and a provider of the full range of marine services to the shipping community.
Ships are fundamentally driven by tight timelines, and vessels calling into ports need a quick turnaround. Hence, our Port is defined by its capacity to ensure that all marine services are efficiently coordinated through local agents and suppliers. These range from bunkering to crew changes, provisions, spares and other husbandry products, delivered to the vessel with minimal disruption to its schedule.
Gibraltar’s economy is built on three pillars: tourism, financial services and maritime services. As one of these three pillars, the Port generates a significant number of jobs for the local community, while its financial spin off has a big impact on Gibraltar’s GDP. And all this is delivered in just seven square miles of water.
The importance of the maritime industry to Gibraltar as a whole cannot be understated. Returning to my homeland to take up my position as Captain of the Port, after a 30 year long career in the Royal Navy, I am impressed by its dynamic and vibrant environment. The Port Authority will always actively work alongside its partners to ensure that the Port continues to be a premier stop for vessels, and I look forward to playing my part in its future.