Saturday, 9 October 2010

Hello sailor, an old sea dogs thoughts on the Margate oil bunker

This is about the new oil bunkering facility in the Queens Channel around five miles north of Margate, my concerns here relate to the possibility of an oil spill off Margate.

Bunker oil is usually the term for some of the thickest and nastiest oil there is, it is the residual oil that remains after the oil distillation process that turns crude oil into, petrol diesel and lubricating oil.

It is used in ships boilers and is so viscous that it has to be heated up before it can be pumped.

As far as I can see this facility offers pretty much every sort of oil there is to vessels in the Dover Strait and Thames Estuary.

Operations there involve fuel bunker vessels being anchored in the Queens Channel and 1,000s of tons of oil being pumped between vessels.

Two tankers have been chartered for this operation, The Jamie with a load capacity of 5,775 tonnes and The Christine with a load capacity of 8,673 tonnes, these are supplied with fuel by barges from Rotterdam.

I have put the (old) press release on my press release blog at

Information about contingency plans in the event of a spillage is a bit sparse at the moment, I can’t find details of any emergency standby vessel that would be used in an emergency spill.

In the case of an oil spillage, the facility will use the dedicated oil spill response capability in the Port of Ramsgate.

On the one hand I read about the toxic chemical spill in Hungry, the BP oil spill and part of me thinks something like this is unlikely to happen in Thanet.

On the other hand I find I am writing something like this, posting about bits of masonry hanging of cliffs or local flood risk, where no one actually seems to be aware of the high tide mark.

I suppose I am writing this post with a growing sense of incredulity, thinking that I must be missing or misunderstanding something here, thinking surely people in Margate must be aware of this, the council, local press, local environmentalists.

Perhaps it’s just me and this sort of risk is perfectly normal, perhaps these sort of operations are common close to tourist beaches with busy offshore shipping and a history of large and damaging storms.

I get the impression that refuelling ships in this way is more profitable than doing so in port where the environmental risks would be less, but I do wonder what the benefits to Thanet are, as it is the Thanet tourist economy that is being put at risk.

I will add to this one as I get time.


  1. I think bunkering in this context is only referring to fuelling and not the grade of the fuel. I can't see the problem with preheating a fuel before use though and by implication a spill with lighter grades would be better.

    The Port of London Authority is overseeing the operation and that enhanced oil spill response capability is to be based in Ramsgate. This facility would presumably be available to assist with any fuel spills or accidents which might happen around the Thanet coast. The more specialist response / service units that are based in Ramsgate the better.

  2. 10.30 you do appreciate that this service is in operation now and is providing all sorts of oil including bunker grade.

    We are talking about a fairly large operation compared to your local petrol station, about a million tonnes of fuel per year I think so a turnover of about £300m.

    Obviously the financial risk here is with the insurers, but the other risks ecological and to tourism seem to fall pretty heavily on the Thanet resorts.

    One of my main interests here is what the Thanet towns get out of this operation to compensate for the risk.

    The Port of London involvement seems to be about keeping this on the absolute boundary of their area of control, no risk to London.

    My understanding of the oil spill response capability at Ramsgate, is that it is what it was before this extra risk.

    That, I think, would be some equipment stored locally, booms, chemical solvents, protective clothing etc this would - was envisaged to be used by local fishermen who had been trained to use it, in conjunction with their own fishing vessels.

    Just what you would expect to get in any costal area where there is always some risk from a fuel spill.

    I can’t find any mention of a dedicated unit or specialist vessels and frankly I don’t really know what would be normal, this is a rather tentative and enquiring post as I don’t really understand the situation properly.

    One thing is certain there is likely to a greater risk of fuel spillage at the petrol station than on an ordinary bit of road

    I would assume that the Thanet District Council, Port Ramsgate, The Port of London Authority, The Environment Agency, various marine societies and the bunker operator would all be working closely on this one, but I can’t see any evidence of it.

    Frankly I was expecting comment saying that all was well and that the council was benefiting considerably, from what after all appears to be an unnecessary risk entirely based on there being more profit to be made out of refuelling at sea than the much safer refuelling in port.


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