During the 125 years the Calpe Rowing Club has been in existence there have been occasions when the committees entrusted with guiding its affairs have been faced with tough choices.
One such "tough choice" slowly reared its head in 1984. The waters surrounding the club became polluted with oil. Initially it was thought that an oil spillage from the RFA Olwen was responsible and the club instructed its lawyers, Triay & Triay, to claim damages from the responsible party. The MOD disclaimed responsibility and with the passage of time it became clear that the pollution emanated from much closer to home. The waters in front of the club were almost permanently covered with a thick coat of oil, which made swimming impossible and fouled boats moored in the area. This oil soon found its way into the boathouse and even the clubhouse. Its smell permeated the whole area of the club. The membership demanded the committee take action to remedy the matter. It soon became clear that a quick solution would not be forthcoming as both the MOD and the Shell Company of Gibraltar denied responsibility for the oil that was choking the life out of the club. The Club entrusted its President, Sir Howard Davis, Vice president, Abraham Benatar (Brammy) and Hon. Secretary, Fernando Devincenzi with the task of getting the party responsible for the spillage to stop the leakage and compensate the club for the damage it and its members had suffered as a result of the constant contamination of the waters in front of the club. A Club stalwart, the late Lt. Col. J M E Gareze (Pop), an Insurance Loss Surveyor & Adjuster, carried out an assessment of the valuation of damage and consequential damage arising from the oil spillage at no cost. A gesture much appreciated by his fellow members.
It soon became common knowledge that the culprit was a fuel line running underground near the Calpe Rowing Club. The MOD was requested by the Captain of the Port to pressure test its lines to ensure that none leaked. This was done and the lines were given a clean bill of health. The Shell Company also checked its lines and they too were found to be in order. There thus remained one line, owned by the MOD but maintained by the Shell Company of Gibraltar under a joint operating agreement, to be tested. In February 1985 the Flag Officer Gibraltar said "The indication are that there is a leak in the Common Line" but for "technical reasons it has not yet been possible to pinpoint the leak."
At this stage the Club's lawyers wrote to H. M. Attorney General for Gibraltar inviting him to intervene as the matter was one of public responsibility. The Attorney General reply was, in effect, that the public interest represented by the Government of Gibraltar through its Attorney General, was to be postponed to what he alleged to be the private interest of the Calpe Rowing Club. The Calpe Rowing Club was effectively left on its own to find a solution to a problem that affected the whole of Gibraltar.
It became clear that the leakage emanated from the Common Line and talks were held with Shell who was responsible for its maintenance. Shell proved very willing to help the Club but without admitting liability. In August 1985 it offered to provide the following:
1. Two floating pontoons, purchased by Shell and at your disposal and risk until such time that the clearing up operation is completed, whereupon the floating pontoons will be returned to Shell.
2. Backfilling of the area, which is worst affected by the oil pollution as indicated on the attached drawing.
3. Backfilling inside the present boathouse and providing for a side entrance.
4. Temporary protection for rowing boats outside the boathouse during works.
5. Protection against entry from Varyl Begg Estate by fencing off.
This offer resulted in Triay & Triay writing back expressing the Calpe's appreciation for the spirit of cooperation which had governed the talks so far and reiterating the wish that the talks should continue in this spirit. However they mooted the possibility of a writ being issued in order to protect the Club's position.
In its reply to this letter the Shell Company had this to say: We can however not accept that the issuing of a writ in these circumstances would not jeopardize the spirit of cooperation, which you seek to maintain.
The Club was thus faced with a crucial decision: To proceed with the writ and become involved in a process of litigation which could last for years, with no guarantee of success or to continue negociating in the manner it had done so far in the expectation that a favourable settlement would be achieved in a much shorter time frame. The club's Vice - President was firmly of the view that given the disparate resources available to the parties it would be prudent to continue to try to resolve the matter amicably. He also expressed the view that he should be entrusted with continuing negotiating with Shell on his own as he believed that, having established a very good working relationship with the Shell team, he could achieve a quicker and more favourable settlement. The committee concurred with his view and encouraged him to redouble his efforts to bring about a speedy settlement. Negotiations continued and Shell made an initial offer of £60000-00. This offer was turned down and in April 1986 the Shell company was in a position to offer an ex gratia payment of £70,000-00 plus the provision of a swimming pool as compensation for the damage the Club had suffered up to that date. The settlement offered was not intended to compensate the club against the possibility of further damage unascertained at the time the offer was being made or arising from further seepages of oil. The offer was accepted and in March 1987 a further cheque for £15,000-00 was received in lieu of the swimming pool. The Club's 19 boat owners were also compensated for the damage they had suffered.
The committee's decision to negotiate rather than litigate was vindicated, as was its decision to entrust final negotiations to Brammie Benatar. J E Triay of Triay & Triay wrote to the president of the Calpe in the following terms; " I think Brammie conducted a delicate negotiation with a unique balance of force and friendship which is his own very personal and special way" while the Manager of Shell wrote to Brammie as follows: " I must thank you personally for your involvement in this matter and the way you managed to maintain a spirit of cooperation despite the tough and difficult negotiations you had with us...I am sure your business like approach and your sense of reality has contributed a great deal in reaching an amicable settlement on terms which are acceptable to both parties."
Government's plans for the Montagu basin called for the largest land reclamation project Gibraltar had ever seen and the Calpe's days at Devil's Tongue were numbered.