Nature Port Reception Facilities Ltd have had the contract since 2005 on a 20-year lease for waste treatment and oil recovery processes for ship sullage, waste oils, some commercial and domestic cooking oils, fuel oils and grey water.
The Government of Gibraltar accepted the proposed extension of the installation which would see the plant extend North by 35m, a total increment of 700 sq meters. This area would increase the installation by 5000 cu.m bringing the total installation capacity to 12,000 cu.m. Nature paid £303,500 on Jan 4, 2011 for the extension of land required for building.
The company has issued the following press release;
" Nature Port Reception Facilities Limited (“Nature”), the company at the North Mole which recycles waste oil and water and on whose site Pedro Zambrano Lopez, a Spanish worker died following an explosion on 31 May 2011, has responded to articles and letters regarding the incident which have appeared recently in the press.
Nature very much regrets the death of Pedro Zambrano Lopez, and has sent its sincerest condolences to his family, but cannot be held responsible for the reporting of statements made in court documents which are freely available to the public, and which have not previously been the subject of any public comment by Nature.
According to Nature, these very serious matters should be resolved not in the public eye, but by the courts, after a close analysis of all the evidence before them.
In Nature’s opinion, whilst it fully understands its own plant and similar installations will come under heavy scrutiny as a result of the incident, this is not enough and the way in which the accident was handled by the emergency services and the port department should come under similar scrutiny. According to Nature, the response to the accident was sub-standard and resulted in a fire which should have been promptly extinguished to one which blazed unnecessarily for hours and caused pollution.
Nature has, since shortly after the accident, been calling for a full, independent public inquiry into the explosion and the way in which it was handled.
Nature has also stated that it has been lobbying for a review of emergency services at the port for some time. At a meeting of the Port Advisory Council held on 29 April 2010, chaired by the Hon Joe Holliday this issue was raised. Capt Peter Hall was also present at this meeting together with Nature’s Group Managing Director Darren Laguea and Managing Director Freddie Becerra who expressed concern that there were no procedures in place to deal with a fire when there were two cruise chips alongside. Mr Laguea was of the view that this needed urgent attention. This appears in the minutes of that meeting as does the fact that Mr Laguea had sponsored a set of emergency procedures in 2008.
Nature has also raised concerns about the disproportionate response to the accident and, in particular, the refusal to allow it to use its water treatment plant (which is separate to the tank farm and completely safe) which could have been used to mitigate the costs and damage to the environment after the explosion. “This would have been the safest and most environmentally friendly solution”, states Nature. Nature is also concerned about the way in which waste oils have been dealt with since the accident, and are concerned that a number of local and international laws have been breached, even after such breaches were highlighted by Nature.
Nature’s directors have also severely criticised the imminent publication of three reports by Capita Symonds, an English company instructed by the Government of Gibraltar.
“These reports are flawed in many respects”, said Nature. “For a start, Capita Symonds is conducting a private report and do not have the same evidence gathering powers that an independent tribunal would have had. Further, this investigation completely fails to address the response to the fire by the emergency services and the port”.
Nature says that this is completely unsatisfactory and has confirmed that it has obtained two reports, including one from renowned international Emergency Management Consultant Joe Bishop, who has concluded that there were serious failings on the part of the port and emergency services.
“Nature in no way criticises the courage of those who tried their best to fight the fire”, said Nature, but the question of “Gibraltar not having the systems, training or resources in place to tackle this sort of incident”.
As regards the report from Capita Symonds which has been recently provided to Nature, it notes that one report by Mr Jim Skilling concentrates on procedural matters, the second, by Mr Mike Welham looks at technical matters and the third by Mr David Hughes is a metallurgical survey of the sullage plant tanks.
A company spokesman said today (Thursday): “We are astonished that the government are rushing out these reports at this stage when it is clear from the text of the reports themselves that all the relevant information is not yet available to Capita Symonds. Although the accident happened on 31 May 2011, the fact is that Capita Symonds’ fact-finding process is still under way, with questions having recently been put to Nature remaining pending.” Nature considers therefore that there are many glaring gaps in the evidence and raises the following initial concerns.
1. Two of the three consultants hired by Capita, Mr Skilling and Mr Welham are neither Chartered Engineers nor Chartered Scientists and draw the Government’s attention to the fact that the English Law Commission has expressed its concern at levels of expertise expected in complex cases such as this.
2. The reports do not set out the fire and explosion qualifications of these gentlemen.
3. There is no forensic report- why is this so?
4. There is no mention, and no publication, of the Fire and Rescue Report prepared by Gibraltar’s own emergency services?
5. Inexplicably, not one of the three consultants has interviewed Nature’s Group Managing Director Darren Laguea.
6. Mr Skilling states in his report that they have not been able to obtain further information on Surmeyca, S.L., the sub contractor involved in the explosion. Mr Skilling also states that he is not aware if the welders spoke English. These surely are crucial issues?”
Widespread media reports at the time of the explosion noted that the authorities believed there to be a drastic shortage of foam to deal with the blaze, which suggests that Mr Laguea’s proposals were never taken seriously by either the Port Authority or Fire and Rescue Services. It subsequently transpired that there were ten tons of foam available but neither the Disaster Committee, the Chief Fire Officer or the Captain of the Port were aware of this.
Nature’s board are not complacent about the tragic events which culminated in the death of one of the welders, 40-year-old Pedro Zambrano Lopez.
Their spokesman continued, “Immediately after the incident Nature conducted a thorough review of its Health and Safety protocols which concluded that whilst most procedures were in place, there was room for improvements. The review also showed that Nature, which employs 30 people, did not have any history of incidents prior to the explosion, and the fire has to be seen as an isolated incident”
Nature was accredited as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 compliant in 2010 and would have never been able to achieve these certificates if it had proven to be a sub-standard company. "
The spokesman continued, “This, however, in no way is an attempt to waive our responsibilities. A tragic incident like this can never be excused. The very fact that it happened shows the need for continuous improvement to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”
“We will improve our management systems and we will improve general safety. Nature will strive for the highest safety standards. However the Government and Port Authority have an obligation to ensure the safety of the public too. It is imperative they should perform regular safety audits as repeatedly proposed by our director some time ago.”
The spokesman concluded, “We are prepared to face up to our responsibilities in this sad affair but demand the authorities do the same and publishing reports which fail to tell both sides of the story is not the way to achieve this”.
“We repeat our demand for an independent public inquiry into all aspects of the incident. Given that a life has been lost the public (more so Mr Zambrano Lopez’s family) deserve nothing less. Nothing must be swept under the carpet.”