Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Gib-Spain Maritime working group to deliver safety report

A working group set up to discuss cooperation on maritime affairs between the ports of Gibraltar and Algeciras met late last month to analyse issues relating to navigational safety and anti-pollution measures in the Bay of Gibraltar.

The group, which is made up of officials from both ports, is due to report back at the end of this month, after which a decision will be made on practical steps to be implemented.

“Hopefully the next round of talks [on maritime issues] will be held in Gibraltar toward the end of October,” said Joe Holliday, Minister for Trade, Industry and Telecommunications.

“At that meeting we will have had an opportunity to assess what is being proposed and actually start to make some headway.”

Two working groups were established following the initial contact between the two ports last May, one to deal with safety and environmental concerns, the other to examine commercial opportunities.

Navigational safety is a prime concern in the bay, which has seen a sharp rise in the volume of maritime trade over the past decade. The collision between the cruise ship Van Gogh and the tanker Spetses in thick fog last year was a stark warning of how easily things can go wrong. The passenger ship was leaving Gibraltar, while the tanker was sailing into Algeciras.

One of the key aims for the two ports is to find ways of coordinating vessel movements on both sides of the bay, and to further tighten monitoring and control systems.

“At the end of the day, these are practical issues which I think benefit both sides,” Mr Holliday said.

Officials are also sharing information on pollution prevention and control in an effort to harmonise contingency plans on either side of the bay in the event of a major incident. In terms of commercial cooperation, the ports are exploring the possibility of joint initiatives to market the bay as a whole.

One potentially significant stumbling block is that the Bay of Gibraltar is known as the Bay of Algeciras in Spain, making branding a difficult exercise.

Mr Holliday is keeping an open mind at this stage but, in any case, insists that any collaboration on marketing would not preclude Gibraltar’s own individual efforts at major international maritime events.

Another important element highlighted at the initial meeting last May was the possibility of setting up a ferry link between Gibraltar and Algeciras. Officials concede, however, that this will prove one of the most difficult initiatives to implement. In order to establish such a link there would need to be customs, immigration and police controls both in Gibraltar and in Algeciras.

“I know that on their side they are looking at what this is going to mean for them, in terms of human resources, in terms of logistics from the point of view of Schengen and so on,” Mr Holliday said.

“On our side, we recognise that we will have to beef up our own side.”

What is clear is that, if the political hurdles can be overcome, there will be no lack of commercial interest in such a venture. Two companies in Gibraltar – there are no names at this stage - have already expressed interest in setting up the ferry service.

“It’s a question of ironing out whether logistically the whole thing is possible and then going for the political sanction,” Mr Holliday said.

Related Links:

Algeciras Port Authority

Gibraltar Port Authority

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