Diesel fuel spill should disperse by Monday

The Naviera Armas ferry Volcán de Tamasite which collided on Friday evening with the harbour wall of the Nelson Mandela Dock, in the Port of Las Palmas, has caused many more problems than initially thought, having run out of control just 13 minutes after leaving port bound for Santa Cruz de Tenerife, with a total of 140 passengers and 33 crew members travelling on board.

Thirteen passengers had to be treated for various injuries, including anxiety attacks, five of whom were transferred to health centres in the capital of Gran Canaria.

The ship’s crew were able to recover control of the engines minutes later managing to enter the port under its own propulsion, accompanied by two tugboats from the company Boluda.

The accident also caused serious damage to infrastructure on the dock rupturing Oryx company pipelines carrying fuel, which caused a spill feared to be of between 100,000 and 200,000 litres of refined diesel, into the sea.

Although the Port Authority pointed out that large amounts of hydrocarbon pollutant had escaped into the water, the Government of the Canary Islands General Directorate of Security and Emergencies did not declare an emergency until the early hours of Saturday morning, at 1:30 am, announcing an emergency situation level 1 (on a scaled or 0 to 3) due to accidental marine pollution.  That level was later raised to Emergency level 2 as the various protocols kicked into action.

The accident occurred at 20.20 on Friday evening. Thirteen minutes earlier, the ship had left the harbour heading for the capital of Tenerife, a journey that would normally last about two and a half hours. However, as soon as she got past the harbour wall, she apparently lost power. Several sources have pointed to a power generator failing to function correctly, with emergency systems failing to activate. The crew first attempted to stop the ferry, which turned to port and was facing the harbour.  They launched one of the anchors to try to steady the ship, however she careered on into the dockside causing major damage.

Several people on board suffered falls, although none of them have reported serious injuries. The 112 Emergency and Safety Coordinating Center (CECOES) reported that 13 of the travellers had to be treated, nine of them due to anxiety attacks and one due to neck pain. Ferry company Naviera Armas have reported that among those affected was a pregnant woman suffering from shock.

On the dock the people who had been working there managed to get clear of the collision. Though port sources say that part of the collapsing harbour wall crushed two cars belonging to oil company Oryx, which at that same moment was supplying fuel to one of the other ships. “Just a minute before there were people in the vehicles that were crushed,” Luis Ibarra, president of the Port Authority, told reporters as he arrived at the scene to get a first-hand look at the calamity surrounding the incident.

After the collision, the stricken ferry managed to recover power just a few minutes later, and one hour afterwards was able to dock back in the port.

Technicians from the Port Authority of Las Palmas went straight to the site to check the damage caused to port infrastructure. The heavy impact had ruptured diesel fuel supply pipes leading to a spill of perhaps between 100,000 and 200,000 litres of diesel.

Two Marine Rescue boats, the Miguel de Cervantes and Salvamar Nunki, remained at the scene to monitor the spill, both boats were working to disperse the fuel on the basis that removing all the diesel from the surface would be near impossible due to the bad sea conditions and prevailing winds in the area.  However it has been reported that in the hours following the leak, response vessels were able to recover around 30,000 litres of spilled fuel.

The company Naviera Armas said they will be opening an investigation into the causes of the accident and why it was that the back up power generators were not activated. Additionally, the company has already asked ship maintenance specialists Astican to place the ship in dock to begin repairs as soon as possible so that the ferry can go back into service. 

Repair to the Harbour wall will last about six months and is expected to cost about two million euros.

The president of the Government of the Canary Islands and the president of the Cabildo of Gran Canaria, along with the Spanish Government delegate to the Canary Islands and the rest of the authorities held coordination and evaluation meetings first thing saturday morning, to prepare a full report on what has happened.

At 01.30 in Saturday an emergency had been declared due to the fuel spill, with beaches from the Telde coast to the Port of Las Palmas closed to swimmers until at least Monday, by which time it is thought the spilled diesel will have dispersed and evaporated.

The main water desalination plants on that coastline were thought to have been taken out of operation as a safety precaution, however the government later reported that they were unaffected.

The spill is being contained and stretches between 3 & 5km along the north east coast, however it is feared may well work its way south, though the likelihood of it reaching the southern beaches is seen as very slim, since most of the main holiday resorts are in the lee of the prevailing currents and winds, shielded by the island, so any pollutants that do head that way are most likely to head out to open sea before evaporating.

We´ll keep you posted as we hear more