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5th March 2021, 19:55

£20,000 fine for Captain of the AM Ghent following last month's oil spill

The Captain of the AM Ghent has been fined £20,000 after pleading guilty to allowing oil to be discharged into port waters and damaging a breeding site of a protected species.

Ashish Maini pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to being ultimately responsible for the oil spill on the 12th of February, in which an estimated 2,000 litres of oil spilled into Gibraltar waters.

The vessel’s operator, Anglo Eastern, has paid £1.5 million towards clean up and damages.

In a letter, Captain Maini expressed his utter dismay and remorse at what had happened, offering an apology to the court and to the people of Gibraltar.

The court heard that the 230 metres long AM Ghent arrived in Gibraltar to undergo a bunkering operation that was due to last a total of eight hours. Part of this operation entailed taking on 1,800 tonnes (1,800,000 litres) of ULSFO (Ultra-low Sulphur Fuel Oil).

With the fuel transferring at approximately 250 tonnes (250,000 litres) per hour, it is estimated that oil was spilling into the sea for around 30 seconds before a crew member realised and shut off the flow.

In mitigation, the captain’s lawyer outlined the extensive preventative measures in place to avoid spillage, emphasising that safety standards had been fully complied with. Freddie Vasquez QC described the spill as resulting from the failure of equipment, where appropriate precautions have been taken and were unforeseeably overcome.

The main offence that the captain pleaded guilty to was one of strict liability, where it is possible that no recklessness, negligence or corner-cutting was involved. Stipendiary Magistrate, Charles Pitto, accepted this appeared to be a case in which all involved had acted appropriately, but said someone must be considered culpable, to serve, in part, as a deterrent.

On the night of February 11th, the AM Ghent began its bunkering operation in the port, which was expected to run through the night and fill multiple tanks aboard the vessel.

It is believed the spillage occurred when the seal on an internal valve ruptured, and instead of directing fuel to a new tank, the fuel continued transferring into a tank which was already full, and overflowed as a result. Safety mechanisms on the ship collected an estimated 2,000 litres of fuel before another 2,000 spilled into the sea.

The valve in question had last been checked in October 2020 and deemed fit for use, and while the crew had tested its function before the operation, it was not something which they could access directly.

An environmental investigation found that the oil had caused an endangered species of limpet, the Patella Ferruginea had been adversely affected, with multiple specimens believed to have been forced away from their breeding ground.

Mr Pitto noted Maini’s early plea when handing down his sentence, fining the captain £30,000, reduced to £20,000 for his co-operation. There was no separate penalty for the second offence.