The government of Gibraltar has invited proposals for the design and construction of a land-based marine fuels storage and bunkering facility with a minimum storage capacity of 225,000 cu m in the Mediterranean bunkering hub.
Prospective bidders have already expressed an interest ahead of the formal government invitation issued on Friday, CEO and Captain of the Port of Gibraltar Bob Sanguinetti told Platts.
"Supply would need to be at fair competitive rates to both refueling vessels coming alongside and to bunker barges in order to promote and further increase the Gibraltar bunkering industry," the government's call for letters of interest said.
At this stage, the government is not restricting the nature of submissions and is open to all ideas and proposals, including the possibility of "responsible reclamation of land" to build a bunker terminal on the tiny peninsula.
Space restrictions have often been cited as a major hindrance for building land-based storage in Gibraltar, whereas its Spanish neighbor Algeciras has seen major storage developments with the opening of the Vopak Terminal Algeciras in 2013.
A number of bunkering companies in the area have taken up storage at the Algeciras terminal, which has 402,433 cu m capacity spread across 22 tanks.
Since a year ago, however, plans for further expansion of oil product storage in Algeciras have been in doubt.
Agustin Silva, managing director at Vopak Terminal Algeciras, told a forum in Gibraltar last February that Vopak was not likely to move onto its phase 2 expansion plans for Algeciras very soon, saying investment for that was not in place yet. This week, Silva was cited by other media as saying Vopak will make a decision on whether to expand the terminal by the end of the second quarter.
There was also news in the local press that global oil storage specialist VTTI had pulled the plug on a well advanced project to build a terminal with dedicated space for marine fuels. When contacted, VTTI said it "declines to comment on the status of this project."
There has been no update on the status of VTTI's plans in Algeciras, but Sanguinetti agreed that if expansion of storage in Algeciras was less likely, it might increase the chances of storage being built in Gibraltar.
Proposals are invited before April 22 and should outline layout plans and details. The government "will take expert advice" on proposals received.
"For many years we have talked of the need for land storage facilities and considered many different options. I am pleased that we are now focusing on this possibility and encouraged by the interest we have received to date," said Minister for the Port Paul Balban.
Prospective bidders have suggested it could take about two years to build the new facility.
At present, the only storage facility for bunkers in Gibraltar itself is a Vemaoil tanker moored at the port's detached mole, with other suppliers loading either in Algeciras or, in the case of Aegean, across the Strait of Gibraltar at TangerMed in Morocco.
Asked if the successful opening of land-based storage for bunkers in Gibraltar would spell the end of using floating storage, Sanguinetti said this will be largely down to the bunker suppliers themselves, and the scale and arrangements of the land storage.
"What I would say is that informally the existing bunker suppliers agree that higher storage capacity in Gibraltar would be positive," Sanguinetti said.