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Gibraltar Ports Authority: Promoting Maritime Excellence

With 240 million gross tonnes of vessel calls per year, Gibraltar is home to a key port offering a wide variety of services for vessels of all sizes and types. The port required an overseeing body that would ensure the safety, reliability, and development of Gibraltar’s port. Therefore, Gibraltar Ports Authority (GPA) was created to provide top-quality service to oversee the efficient coordination of all marine activities across the port, which now includes the monitoring and control of vessel movements, port security, licensing of port operations, search and rescue response, pollution prevention, and bunkering services all within the British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.   

Established in 2005, GPA monitors and controls the 60,00 vessels that operate along the Strait of Gibraltar every year. An essential part of GPA’s role is in their Vessel Traffic Service (VTS), which GPA utilises to effectively coordinate vessel movements across the BGTW and into the port. The VTS provides round-the-clock monitoring from its operations centre in the port’s main office to oversee all ships travelling in the BGTW, using a range of sensors including radar and automatic identification systems (AIS), CCTV and night-time thermal imaging. Furthermore, GPA works with global partners to update the UK’s Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) on all vessel traffic to assist authorities worldwide in monitoring vessel operations across international shores. Additionally, Gibraltar is in such a vital position geographically for goods and materials transportation as it is located where the Mediterranean and Atlantic shipping lands cross, so the port provides a crucial link between the shipping stakeholders of the BGTW. Therefore, through GPA’s operations across the port using VTS systems, it can effectively improve navigational safety standards, whilst ensuring the efficiency of all the activities that the port facilitates due to its crucial location.   

Nicknamed ‘The Rock’, Gibraltar remains a busy commercial port, with a multitude of services facilitated by an entire network of experienced staff across a diverse range of activities. Tourism remains a key service for Gibraltar, especially as the tourism industry regains its feet following the pandemic. Under GPA the port facilitates cruise ships which can helpfully enter the port at any time of the day due to its one-metre tidal range. Situated only an hour from the Strait of Gibraltar, the port can facilitate these cruise vessels with bunkers of water. The Cruise Terminal is 950 metres and allows for four medium-sized cruise vessels or two large-sized cruise vessels to berth alongside each other simultaneously. The terminal includes a range of facilities, including telephones, bars/cafes, art and craft shops, display areas and the Gibraltar Tourism Board Information Office providing everything both passengers and staff may require upon docking. GPA monitors the port, along with the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Gibraltar Police Marine Section to ensure the safety of the port and its customers through its discreet but effective security presence.  

GPA announced in June that, as part of its continued development toward expanding its cruise and tourism business, it welcomed the Carnival Venezia cruise ship. The massive ship of 14 decks, 5260 passengers and 1278 staff and crew docked at Gibraltar’s port as part of its inaugural voyage, which saw the ship travel for two weeks from Barcelona to New York. The cruise market is highly competitive, so having a large vessel choose Gibraltar as one of 7 key stops highlights the crucial role the port plays in international voyage plans. This vessel choosing Gibraltar port shows the constant work that GPA is doing to attract new cruise business is proving effective and is setting up the future of the port for continued tourism development as it hopes to welcome further cruise business as it continues to expand these operations.  

As the largest bunkering port in the Mediterranean due to its high turnover and tax-free status of Gibraltar, the port of Gibraltar is also a highly competitive location for bunkering. Situated near the main shipping lanes, the port’s bunkering facilities can supply all grades of marine fuel from 30 centistokes (cSt) to 380 cSt. The bunkering facilities are continually monitored by the Government of Gibraltar to ensure that the port is maintaining the strict safety and environmental regulations set out by the Bunkering Code of Practice. GPA’s bunkering superintendents continuously monitor all the operations in the port, and as an associate member of Southampton’s Oil Spill Response Ltd. (ORSL), they critically watch over the port’s operations to prevent, respond, and act upon any oil spillages.  

Consequently, as such a key player in the world of bunkering, GPA is committed to ensuring environmental disasters are avoided through its careful management across the port and wider international waters. However, if one should occur, it will respond quickly to spillage situations to reduce any potential environmental impacts.  Therefore, bunkering remains the main activity within the Port of Gibraltar under GPA, and as an organisation, it is constantly working to ensure that threats to environmental ecosystems are greatly reduced and responded to efficiently.  

As part of GPA’s continued development and improvement to the services of the port, it announced in May 2023 that the government of Gibraltar has granted a licence agreement to Mid-Harbour Small Boat’s Marina Association. The licence will turn a small area of land by the port into a boat repair and yard service. This will provide the association’s berth holders with an area where vessels can be taken to complete maintenance and repair works. The port currently has facilities for ship repairs at Gibdock, which can accommodate ships up to 270 metres in length in its three dry docks. Furthermore, the shipyard can carry out work alongside vessels, or at anchor, whilst working with several companies which facilitate underwater repairs, hull cleaning and maintenance. Thus, the development of repair facilities at the port allows it to continue to work with vessels to make essential repairs to keep vessels operational, which in turn will keep the port’s services running smoothly.     

Overall, GPA oversees and maintains the smooth running of the port of Gibraltar by communicating with other marine services operations both within the BGTW and internationally. Therefore, GPA leads the way in port authority through their facilitation of marine services, regulation, and development of the port. All of this ensures that GPA’s operations and the port of Gibraltar can maintain their critical role for its operations at the cross-section of the Mediterranean and Atlantic shipping lands.