Constant Oil Leaks Killing Gibraltar Bay: Critics
Spain and UK feud while spills threaten the strait's ecosystem
By Luke Kelly-Clyne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 6, 2011 10:42 AM CDT
Flames and smoke billow from an oil tank in the docks of Gibraltar, Tuesday May 31, 2011. The cause of the explosion was not immediately known but two people were reported injured.   (AP Photo/Alicia Jimenez)
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(Newser) – As blame spreads between Spain and the UK, so too does ecosystem-destroying oil in the Strait of Gibraltar. Europe's No. 1 transfer port, located between the towering Rock of Gibraltar and the Spanish fishing town of Algercias is, on any one day, home to tens of oil tankers and ocean liners, crunched together in a strait that's a modest 4 miles wide, Worldcrunch reports. The result of all this congestion and hurried fuel transfer? Spills. Lots of them.

With no fuel tax and very low docking fees, Gibraltar is a cost-saving dream for the more than 110,000 vessels that pass through the port every year. Because of a lack of space for on-land fueling stations, oil-tankers gas up ocean liners on the seas, in a process called bunkering that results in routine leakages. Critics in Spain, which outlaws this method of refueling, deem these leaks to be catastrophic while the British, who provide full legal rights to the tankers, insist the damage is minimal. There have already been four accidents this year, but little has been resolved. "Every time there is an accident, the Algeciras and the Gibraltar authorities only blame each other,” says one Greenpeace representative. “Eventually, the pollution issue itself becomes less important to them.”