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Each year over 80,000 ships pass through the Gibraltar Straits making Gibraltar Bay a focal point for ships seeking bunkers, provisions or simply waiting for orders.

The bunker market is highly competitive and Gibraltar now ranks among the world's leading bunker ports. In 1996 around 1.7m tonnes of bunker fuel was supplied.

The Bassadone family controls a large part of the local bunker market through the Gibunco Group. It owns Peninsula Petroleum and 50% of Cepsa Gibraltar which supplies bunkers on behalf of Shell.

All grades of fuel from 380cst to 30cst are sold with common grades meeting ISO standard 8217(1996) governing quality and density. Dedicated barges owned by Gibunco subsidiary Maritime Gibraltar transports fuel from nearby refineries to ships alongside or at anchor. Each are fitted with quantity gauges.

From the London Peninsula office, John A Bassadone says Peninsula Petroleum will also adopt the Bimco-sponsored Fuelcon bunker purchasing contract showing its commitment to quality and good service.

Texaco is also active in the local bunker market. As a major worldwide bunker marketer, Texaco decided there was a good opportunity to grow its business when Shell reduced its presence.

Texaco currently has a floating storage and barging agreement with Vemaoil and supplies around 30,000 tonnes monthly.

Shell also pulled out of the land storage facility prohibiting quayside deliveries. Texaco is in the final stages of negotiating with the UK Ministry of Defence, owner of the storage tanks, and aims to take this facility over.

Most of Texaco's business is derived from the spot bunker market although it would like to see an increase in contractual deliveries. Texaco supplies all grades of fuel and offers a full range of marine lubricants.

There are a number of ship chandlers in the city, some established for several decades, which can provide a full range of services to customers. In addition, Gibraltar is ideally positioned for crew changes, the close proximity of the airport to the port allowing for rapid transfers of crew members.

There is also a shiprepair facility which, until recently, was run by Norwegian company Kvaerner. The yard, originally a Royal Dockyard, was built in the 1890s to repair ships in the Royal Navy's Home and Mediterranean Fleets. It is equipped with three drydocks, the largest able to accommodate the biggest ships able to transit the Panama canal.

It is expected that a new company will shortly take over the yard and several interested parties have been negotiating with the Government of Gibraltar to this effect.

'The port is an under utilised asset,' said Holliday adding, 'the Government is putting in place a new strategy for the port including short, medium and long term objectives. I feel confident that the next few months will see an upsurge of business.'