Changing times for Gibraltar and its bunkering industry

For many years a major revenue stream for the tiny British territory, plans by the Gibraltarian government to move away from floating storage vessels have had an impact for bunkering operations at the Rock with suppliers moving to straddle their operations with its neighbours.

Although environmentalists will be happy that the risks associated with at-sea bunkering operations – mostly spillages – are being averted, the altered supply chain is making Gibraltarian providers far more vulnerable to rivals in Algeciras, in Spain, and Ceuta, in Tangier.

As a result, nearly every supplier has made moves to effectively straddle Gibraltar and its neighbours, with operations like Aegean Bunkering and Peninsula petroleum moving to Algeciras and Tangier Med. Now, Gibraltar’s ability to provide vessels with fuel depends largely on the availability of barges coming in from Spain. “All floating storages are gone,” explains explains Paul Imossi of ship agent Smith Imossi. “You now have to look at the region, when you look at Gib.

“Algeciras… have now deregulated their bunkering industry. In Algeciras now, Vopak have huge storage capacity, and they’ve given VTTI the go-ahead for another 400-500,000 tonnes of storage.

“Ceuta is also picking up. They have land storage, and Gib Oil” (another player in Gibraltar providing fuel for super yachts), “brings in gas oil from Ceuta. Ceuta’s main market is small coastal vessels performing alongside-bunkering, something we can’t do in Gibraltar; we don’t have land storage or mooring space, and we don’t have wharfage space, due to the fact that cruise liners take up the North Mole, from April to October.”

Smith Imossi uses bunker barges from Algeciras to serve vessels moored cheaply off Gibraltar’s shores. As long as the tax incentives in Gibraltar are maintained, it will always be worthwhile anchoring vessels there, whichever direction their fuel comes from. “Algeciras has opened up licenses and the reality is that you have the same operators there as you do in Gibraltar – Cepsa, Bominflot, Inchcape, InCargo, MH Bland, Gibunco. The only one not in Spain is VEMoil. Algeciras is pretty much intertwined with us now. We have to load in Algeciras – they haven’t got it quite right yet, so it takes a long time to load. We’re getting big delays with bunker barges not being ready.”

In a competitive manoeuvre, Gibraltar’s government recently cut tonnage dues for vessels mooring on the Mediterraean side of the rock by 75%. Bunkering is not allowed there, but other aspects of ship servicing are welcome. “After bunkering, they can go and anchor on the East side, where you can do stores, spares and crew changes. The current government have reduced fees in order to compete against Algeciras.”

Further, there are rumours of plans to widen the “detached mole” – a spit of reclaimed quay wall out in Gibraltar’s harbour – to accommodate fuel storage facilities for bunkering ships and guarantee the integrity of supply.

Another plan for local infrastructure includes the building of an LNG-powered electrical plant on the “North Mole”, which would have its own facility for gas storage. Would this open up the possibility for LNG bunkering at the rock? “It makes sense,” says Imossi. “We have notified the government about the possibility of LNG Bunkering.”

So where will owners operating in Europe get their fuel in the future? “Each place has its own market,” Imossi explains. “Ceuta has the shortsea shipping alongside market – it has one bunker barge. We’re a bit more exposed in Gibraltar, a bit more delicate.”

“The region is growing. I think the game now is that they’ll go when there’s less congestion. [Gibraltar] is still cheaper on cost, but it depends on availability.”