A clean-up operation was set in motion in Algeciras yesterday after an oil spill from the Cepsa refinery monobuoy last night.
Cepsa said a mix of crude oil and water was discharged into the sea at around 8.45pm on Tuesday evening.
By morning, over half a kilometre of beach in El Rinconcillo had been tarred black.
An investigation is under way but Cepsa said early indications were that the spill was the result of a “mechanical failure”.
Maintenance teams were preparing to shut down the monobuoy for its annual inspection at the time. The buoy is anchored offshore opposite the refinery and is used to allow large tankers to discharge cargo into storage tanks on shore.
As soon as the spill was detected, the refinery activated its emergency plan and contacted port authorities and emergency services in Algeciras, as well as the Junta de Andalucia’s environment department.
By dawn yesterday, a clean-up operation was under way at sea and on the beach in El Rinconcillo, in the northwest corner of the Bay of Gibraltar.
The prevailing levanter weather meant the oil was pushed away from the Rock towards the Palmones area.
The Gibraltar Port Authority confirmed it had been kept informed by the Spanish authorities, which estimated around 2,500 litres of oil may have escaped into the sea.
“The GPA coordinated the surveillance of the northern British Gibraltar territorial waters using its own and other agencies’ and authorities’ assets and confirmed that there had been no indication of any oil drifting towards British waters,” a spokesman said.
“Department of the Environment and Climate Change officers were also in the bay looking for possible environmental damage and detected none within BGTW.”
Political parties and environmental groups in Spain clamoured for an investigation into the incident, which they said illustrated the risks of industrial and port activity in the bay.
Juan Lopez Uralde, the Unidos Podemos MP who used to head Greenpeace in Spain, said the bay was a “high risk zone” for oil spills.
“The question is not if there will be a catastrophe, but when,” he said.
Verdemar-Ecologistas en Acción called on the Junta and the Algeciras town council to initiate legal action against Cepsa over the spill.
Antonio Muñoz questioned the wisdom of carrying out a technical check on the monobuoy given the strong levanter winds.