23-Feb-2005 -- Ceuta is near, and due to a cold front which passed shortly before, visibility is exceptionally good.
So we decided to visit 36N 5W again.
What we see when looking towards WNW, is well known: The Rock of Gibraltar.
Towards North there are the Spanish mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada, and in the South we see the high Moroccan Atlas mountains. Finally looking towards West, there is Monte Hacho in Spanish Morocco, behind which the town of Ceuta is located.
“Spanish Morocco” is a term no longer officially used, but I am stuck to it and old habits die hard. The Spanish usually get upset when you call Ceuta a “colony” or “Spanish Morocco”. They immediately will explain you that Ceuta is SPAIN, was and will be SPAIN, and nothing else than SPAIN! If you, as a neutral foreigner, continue to ask why Morocco is claiming Ceuta as their territory, then, they will reply that this is completely irrelevant and unfounded.
If you are not satisfied with this explanation and you dare to investigate further about Spain’s own claims against British Gibraltar… then you will learn that this is a completely different thing ;-)
Well, I am the last one begrudging to the Spanish their Ceuta, but we see again, that wherever you are in the Mediterranean Sea, politics and mutual claims and quarrels play an extremely important role there and cannot be avoided.
Well, at 10 a.m. this morning the pilot came alongside with his launch and boarded our ship by climbing up the pilot-ladder, in order to assist me to berth the ship at the Dique de Poniente (Western Mole).
As I have already pointed out in my previous visit, Ceuta is of utmost importance for the shipping industry. It is basically only a small port, but an extremely busy place for refuelling, or “bunkering”, as we shipping people use to call this operation. Ceuta with its ideal strategic position is a gigantic gas station for ships. The Company which is operating there is CEPSA (Compañia Española de Petróleas S.A.). The fuel, or “bunker”, is arriving through pipelines from nearby oil storage tanks and is subsequently pumped on board the ships through rubber hoses.
This time we do not receive much bunkers. Charterers have ordered only 150,000 litres (40,000 US gallons) of heavy fuel oil and 50,000 litres (13,200 US gallons) of Diesel oil. The reason are the actually extremely high prices for fuel, and instead of giving us the maximum possible quantity (about 1,000,000 litres / 264,000 US gallons) they preferred to wait for a probable plunge of the prices on the market.
Bunkering ships is a complicated and tricky task. Fuel prices are by far the highest costs and the heaviest economical load on the operation of a ship, and so it is always worth to carefully check out the quantities to supply and to find the cheapest locations. These vary daily and so it is impossible to give a general guideline, where fuel is cheap, and where it is expensive. Today Ceuta can be cheap, but Rotterdam can be expensive, tomorrow it can be just opposite.
Cape Town today can be more expensive than Montevideo, Jidda in Saudi Arabia can be far more expensive than Fujayra in the United Arab Emirates...
... And fuel is not just fuel. Ships usually need two grades: Diesel for the operation of the generators, and heavy fuel oil for the main engine. The quality of the latter is measured in “centistokes”. Our ship’s engine is already very old and therefore it requires a little bit a better quality, … similar to elderly people who should no longer drink cheap booze and rotgut, but at least 12 years old Chivas Regal. We need IFO180, i.e. Intermediate Fuel Oil with 180 centistokes. The lower the centistokes are, the lighter is the fuel and therefore better (and more expensive, of course). Modern ships have engines which can be operated with even HFO400 (Heavy Fuel Oil with 400 centistokes), and this is no longer real oil, but already more similar to asphalt.
The operation to take these 200,000 litres of fuel (this is roughly the capacity of about 4 medium sized gas stations ashore may have in stock) takes about 3 hours. The bunkers arrive in a hose of a diameter of 18 cm (7 inch) and at a pumping rate of about 70 tons/hour. Supervising the bunkering operation is the task of the ship’s Chief Engineer. He is responsible for the poper distribution in the tanks and of course to avoid the horror of all horrors: An overflow of oil and subsequent spillage into the harbor water!
Oil pollution nowaydays is no longer a “peccadillo”. Penalties and costs for subsequent cleaning up are indescribable high! And so it is not surprising at all when we see that even our small ship is insured against claims in connection of an oil spill for the exorbitant sum of 1 billion Dollars! Well, thanks goodness this time all went well, and so we could leave the port of Ceuta in the afternoon.
When outbound, I saw a ship alongside, and this remembered me on my confluence of yesterday, 36N 1W, where I had mentioned the Ro-Ro type. Ro-Ro stands for Roll-on/Roll-off and here we have such a Ro-Ro-ship. Here on the picture a truck with a trailer is just rolling in over the ramp at the ship’s stern.