Salvage workers and shipping experts were studying a possible mid-sea transfer of nearly 30,000 tons of gasoline from a damaged tanker at risk of exploding, the ship's operators said. Spanish authorities insisted the tanker would not be allowed back into the country's waters to carry out the potentially risky operation.
A tugboat carrying equipment and specialists for the operation had joined the Greek-owned tanker Castor, around 56 km (35 miles) off the Spanish port of Cartagena in the Mediterranean Sea, the ship's operator Athenian Sea Carriers said in a statement.
The 1977-built Castor sought refuge in ports in Morocco, Gibraltar and Spain last week after developing a large crack in its main deck but was refused entry amid fears sparks could set off an explosion. The Polish crew abandoned ship on Friday and the tanker was hauled away from Spain by the world's biggest tugboat, the Nikolay Chiker.
"Further discussions are now taking place with the salvage team on board with a view to producing a detailed plan which is expected to be submitted to the Spanish maritime authorities by January 9," the Castor's operators said in a statement.
However, Spain's Merchant Navy Directorate issued its own statement saying authorities would not allow the boat back into the country's waters and any transfer would have to take place on the high sea.
"Spain's maritime authorities will ensure that the boat remains in international waters, far away from the Spanish coast," the Spanish statement said.
A spokesman for Athenian Sea Carriers said that could add to the risks of the operation. "It would be much safer to do it closer to the coast, in sheltered waters," he said.
The issue of ports providing refuge to damaged tankers is a growing problem in the shipping industry.
The tanker Erika sank off western France in 1999 after being refused permission to shelter in the port of Brest, creating one of the world's worst oil spill disasters.
The owners of the Castor said any spilt gasoline would evaporate, but hundreds of tons of heavy fuel oil used
to propel the vessel could be a bigger problem. - (Reuters)