A BANNED process to scrub ship hulls to increase speed is adding toxic cocktails to the waters off Gibraltar, threatening sensitive marine life.

The procedure – which is banned in most European ports – involves the mechanical scrubbing of the hulls to remove fouling and increase the vessel’s speed.

Research shows that more than a ton of toxic anti-fouling paint is removed during cleaning.

This toxic material – including heavy metals and herbicides banned for use on land – is released into the water threatening marine life.

‘Fouling’, the growth of marine slime, weeds and barnacles on hulls, can increase fuel bills for ship-owners by as much as 20% – or as much as € 20,000 more per day.


Cleaning should be confined to dry docks, where toxic waste can be carefully disposed of, but Gibraltar and Algeciras are among a very small number of European ports where it can be done in the water.

An estimated four large ships are cleaned every day by diving companies operating out of the two ports.

Scrubbing a large hull removes up to two tons of anti-fouling paint, of which about half is made up of toxic biocides.

Anti-fouling paints usually contain more than 30% of copper compounds, and in some cases up to 10% of powerful herbicides such as Diuron.

These compounds persist for long periods in the sediment of the bay.

Figures for the levels of Copper, Zinc and Diuron are supposed to be monitored under EU Directives, but figures for the bay area are not currently available.

Marine ecologists are concerned about the effects of the pollutants. Besides copper and zinc, ‘boosters’ included in anti-fouling paint make it even more toxic.

Marine ecologist Dr Simon Bray, said:: “Heavy metals such as copper and zinc from ship anti-fouling coatings can accumulate to toxic levels in fine sediment.

“Research has shown that there can be long term “reservoirs” of such material which can be released through physical disturbance such as dredging.

“Sensitive species and communities may be affected..”

Subscribe to the Olive Press


  1. You see El Fifi, you can be right. But…
    What do you suggest, El Fifi?
    We should all wait until the fish die and we start growing breast because of the chemicals that GIBRALTAR is pouring into the Bay? I don’t want heavy metals and banned herbicides in my seafood just so Gibraltar can attract some more ships to their harbour. If you want to live in peace with your neighbours you should set an example and not allow this kind of thing, which is apparently banned everywhere else in Europe. Why don’t you do something about this instead of keep pointing the finger everywhere else?

  2. @angelo

    If YOU want to live in peace with Gibraltar, you should stop intruding in their territorial waters or blocking the free movement of people.

    The majority of the pollution in Gibraltar Bay comes from the Spanish. From the oil refinery and from the raw sewage that they pump in without treatment.

    Fix your own problems before you complain about Gibraltar. When you are holier than thou, then you can criticise Gibraltar, but not before.

  3. Angelo
    For the sake of all those who live and work in the area, we hope that all the relevant authorities take the necessary steps to prevent any type of pollution filtrating into our beautiful bay.
    If it was up to me, I wouldn’t want any nuclear sub calling into Gibraltar but at the same time , I would get rid of that bloody big refinery.
    I would build marinas ,walkways,restaurants and hotels and make it into the most beautiful bay in the world.
    But that’s Utopia and, unfortunately, bunkering and all its associate businesses is one of the main employers in the area.

  4. El Fifi you are right and I totally agree with you. This is the right viewpoint.
    The authorities need to do something about this. It is not Utopia to stop something like this. Most people in the area have their livelihood from shipping and business has to go on. But to me this toxic poisons is worse than oil because nobody sees it and then suddenly we have a disaster. Also wouldn’t it be more business for the dry docks if this had to be done out of the water where the poisons can be handled correctly? I am sure you agree on it.
    You can also contact that guy, Mike, that wrote the article originally and let’s join forces and rise some hell and we can both do something to change those conditions.

  5. Nigel

    The Spanish goverment don´t recognise territorial waters for UK outside the port of Gibraltar. And Gibraltar is not a state and can´t have any territory.

    The only legal thing that can be done respect Gibraltar is their decolonization.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.