Seatrade Maritime magazine article

HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION - Published in Seatrade Maritime Magazine - December 2015

Charlie Bartlett reports on latest initiatives from the Port of Gibraltar Authority and how they play to the Rock’s strategic location.

Given that oil prices are still trundling along in the $40s at time of writing, one would think that Gibraltar’s service offering to shipping, of which bunkering plays a large part, would be suffering as a result. But this is not the message from the Gibraltar Port Authority, whose ceo Bob Sanguinetti says: ‘I’ve not seen a difference in the impact of oil prices.’

Stable business levels might have a lot to do with some savvy rulemaking by the government, to entice more shipowners to anchor at Gibraltar for bunkering, other services and to await ‘orders’.

One year ago, when Seatrade last visited, the government had only just introduced a 75% reduction in tariffs at the territory’s port, and Sanguinetti told Seatrade then it was ‘too early to tell’ whether the changes were having any effect, but since then a positive impact has been noticed.

‘We’ve had a positive response to the discounts on both East and Western sides,’ Sanguinetti reports. ‘On the Eastern side, occupancy rates at the anchorage have gone up since we introduced the discounts last July.’

Bunkering in Gibraltar, which largely takes place at sea for lack of mooring space, is only allowed on the western side, because the Rock shelters the anchorage there from choppy seas and high winds that could render the operation perilous.

The majority of ship services take place on the Eastern side. ‘What I want to do is further reinforce the broader marine services that we provide in Gibraltar, crew changes, maintenance, stores and so on,’ says Sanguinetti. ‘I’ve recently introduced a temporary trial to make it even more attractive and we’re seeing the benefits almost instantaneously. The Eastern anchorage is full.

‘Crucially, what we’re also seeing is much more activity from the service launches from the shipping agents and chandlers, in doing more business through Gibraltar, with crew changes, stores,’ he adds. ‘So on the Eastern side it’s certainly had the desired effect in building and reinforcing the broader marine services which Gibraltar can provide.

‘On the Western side, which is almost exclusively for bunkering, again, we’ve seen an increase in activity, with the number of vessels calling for bunkers increasing by over 6% in the last 12 months. This is directly attributable to the fees, but also the string of initiatives we’ve introduced in the last 18 months, from freeing up a number of anchorage slots to increasing bunker barges that are operating at any one time; fine tuning our vessel management system and making the information flow and the admin easier.’

Overall, Sanguinetti says that trends at Gibraltar are ‘going in the right direction’ despite what he describes as ‘increased competition and global pressures on shipping’ such as the Chinese slowdown.

Meanwhile, other opportunities may be opening up. In October, it was announced that Shell Gas and Power has signed an agreement with the Gibraltar government for supply of LNG-fired power to the tiny province, which involves plans for a power plant and LNG storage facilities to be built on the ‘North Mole’, a reclaimed spit of land on the Western side of the Rock.

However, Lloyd’s Register caused controversy this summer when its initial study of plans for the development found that LNG offloading and storage in tanks on either the North Mole’s western arm or the detached mole, further South, ‘presented relatively high risks’ for more than 7,000 of the nation’s residents. However, LR has since stated that ‘modifications to the technical requirements and repositioning of the tanks could see major risks entirely reduced,’ adding that ‘opportunities exist to assess other options or locations.’

Once completed, any new LNG facility clearly might have wider implications for shipping in the area, especially as Gibraltar prides itself on being a powerhouse in the supply of marine fuels. ‘LNG bunkering itself is currently something we’re considering for the future,’ confirms Sanguinetti. ●