Gibraltar is on the east side of Gibraltar Bay on the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar. Gibraltar port facility is located on the west side of the Rock of Gibraltar and adjacent to the town. The port is composed of a commercial harbor, a Royal Navy Base and a ship repair complex.
Sixth Fleet ports of call are also located throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Ship visits ensure continued access to essential bases and infrastructure. Engagement capitalizes on naval strengths of mobility and sustainability, using the inherent prestige of U.S. flagged warships. Formative engagement is further enhanced by incorporating the full range of naval assets -- including Seabees, the chaplaincy, the Judge Advocate General corps, and civil affairs units -- during port visits.
Pilotage is compulsory on arrival and for berthing and unberthing. Admiralty Pilots are provided for U.S. Navy ships making use of a MOD berth. Vessels at anchor may leave without a pilot. Pilot embarkation is normally 1.0 nm west of Europa point, but pilots typically will meet arriving ships further to the south. In bad weather, pilots may board further north, closer to the harbor entrance.
The harbor North Entrance is commonly used by all commercial vessels. Communication with Gibraltar Port on VHF channels 12 or 16 must be made to confirm that the North Entrance is clear from all traffic. The Queen's Harbor Master controls the Southern Entrance. Larger ships (over 170 m length or 10.2 m draft) may be required to use the North Entrance due to currents. For ships anchoring, the liberty launch drops off point is at Pier 41 inside the breakwater.
U.S. Navy ships use the MOD berths: at Piers 41 or 42 near the Royal Navy Tower; at Piers 48, 49, and 50 on the South Mole; at Piers 51 or 52 on the Detached Mole. Piers 51 and 52 have no electrical or water supply. If no MOD berths are available, ships may have to use the commercial berths owned by Cammell Laird. Ships are normally berthed alongside on two floating catamarans wide enough to ensure that the required depth of water is available at the berth.
Holding off wires are rigged at berths 41 and 42. When not in use, they are laid on the bottom with a wire tail running up the face of the jetty and secured to the coping. Care is to be taken when maneuvering close to the jetty as instances have occurred where the wire has fouled a ship's inboard screws. Movements in the harbor while a nuclear powered warship is berthed requires a separate tug to act as a safety vessel.
For some time Gibraltar has had a Z berth, which means it has facilities to accommodate nuclear submarines. This facility has been regularly used by British and American submarines, including Trident class.
Good safe anchorages are available in the open bay. Depths vary from 5-40 fathoms. Anchorages may be obtained west of the North, Detached and South Moles, but clear of prohibited areas. The anchorage is exposed to SW winds, contributing to a heavy sea. Vessels should be prepared to move to an alternative anchorage on the NW side of the bay. In strong winds large vessels should not enter the harbor until tug assistance is available. The composition of the sea bottom is of sand and mud. A 3128 HP ocean-going tug as well as other commercial tugs are available. During strong winds, two or three tugs are used. As a routine precaution, Royal Navy ships are typically secured with hurricane hawsers during the winter time period.
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