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Wednesday 14 August 2013

Gibraltar – It’s Getting Worse

[Update at end of post]

Those believing that the visit of a few Royal Navy vessels to Gibraltar, as they pause en route to an exercise in the Gulf, will cause the dastardly Spanish to cease their border checks and allow cars and their occupants swift passage in and out of the Crown Dependency are about to get a further rude awakening. If only they, and our Government, had been keeping tabs on The Rock in recent years.
A quarter of a century ago, much of Gibraltar’s income came from it being a base for that same Royal Navy: this was the largest employer there. Now, that employment has gone, and so the authorities have had to turn to other sources of income to make up for the shortfall. This has involved significant expansion in what are known as offshore activities, and not just gambling.

One activity that really does take place offshore is what is known as “bunkering”, and this is the latest grievance from the Spanish side. For those unfamiliar with the term, I will explain. The heaviest fuel oils, those left after more valuable fuels are refined out, are used to power ships, and known as “bunker oil”, because they are stored on board where coal bunkers would have been in days gone by.

Bunker oil is generally inexpensive, partly because it is so heavy that it requires pre-heating before it can be burnt. And, guess what? It’s even less expensive if you buy it from Gibraltar, or rather, if you buy if from what the Spanish are calling “floating gas stations” offshore. Ships anchor in the Straits of Gibraltar and transfer fuel to other ships. The potential for spills is obvious.

So, while Spanish Environment Minister Miguel Arias Cañete has restated his Government’s position on the “artificial reef” of concrete blocks – that it is in breach of a fisheries agreement brokered by London – he has also asserted that a harder line will be taken on the fall-out from bunkering. The Gibraltar authorities are most unhappy: seven million tonnes of the stuff are sold this way every year.

This means there is the potential for more stand-offs between the two sides, which will inevitably lead to demands by the more gung-ho part of the Fourth Estate to do something. But, as Simon Jenkins has pointed out in the deeply subversive Guardian, Gibraltar pays nothing in the way of taxes to the Government in London, yet wants UK taxpayers to pay for some unspecified higher level of defence.

That puts Young Dave and his jolly good chaps between a rock and a hard place: Gibraltar effectively escalated the ruckus without telling London, and the reality of the situation – that this isn’t a tactic to divert attention from Spain’s economic performance, but a local dispute – is starting to be understood elsewhere in Europe. There is, ultimately, not a great deal that London can do.

There is also no superior solution available to indignant hacks and pundits.

[UPDATE 15 August 0925 hours: to no surprise at all, the Telegraph, once again via their Madrid correspondent Fiona Govan, has covered the bunkering story, but only publishing it some hours after Zelo Street. Moreover, the Tel claims that the action took place yesterday, but the report from El Pais, referenced elsewhere in this post, was from Tuesday.

Still, the Tel has managed to find a photo of two tanker ships off Gibraltar. Good to see their hacks not at all looking at blogs like this for their leads, because that would never do]

1 comment:

SteveB said...

Never mind paying for defence, how much are they paying for Daves time? Not to mention the likes of the Attorney General. Ordinary solicitors in Crewe charge about £180 an hour (plus VAT - someone explain that to Gib). I'd guess that even this early in the game the bill from Whitehall has reached the level of the salary of one of the public servants made redundant because the UK is short of cash.