Work to locate 'buried oil deposits' on beach after Eleni V tanker spill

Oil on North Beach in Lowestoft.

Oil on the North Beach in Lowestoft in January this year. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Work is set to start to establish the extent of historic oil deposits buried in a north Lowestoft beach after a tanker spill more than 40 years ago.

After crude oil became exposed in January on North Denes beach, in Lowestoft, East Suffolk Council said an investigation into the possibility of removing the spillage was ongoing amid concerns removal would accelerate erosion of the beach.

Oil on North Beach in Lowestoft.

Oil on the North Beach in Lowestoft in January this year. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Now, work will begin next week - starting at Gunton on Monday, October 18 - with specialist contractors on site at Lowestoft North Beach to undertake detailed site investigations to locate and quantify oil deposits which have been in situ since the historic Eleni V spill in 1978. 

The destruction of the Eleni V

The destruction of the Eleni V in May 1978. - Credit: Archant library

The giant oil tanker Eleni V was sailing in thick fog when she was struck by the French bulk carrier Roseline on May 6, 1978 - spilling more than 5,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil after the collision around four miles from the Lowestoft coast.

The upturned bows of the tanker Eleni V off Lowestoft.

The upturned bows of the tanker Eleni V off Lowestoft, with the tug Scotsman holding the wreck in position. This sinking caused extensive oil pollution along miles of beaches. - Credit: Archant library

Oil Lowestoft Eleni V disaster

Workmen up to their knees in oil during clearance work on the North beach after the Eleni V disaster in May 1978. - Credit: Archant library

With the investigations expected to take one week, work will involve a tracked rig moving along the affected area of beach, probing at intervals to detect the deposits.

People are asked to take care if visiting the beach while the rig is operational.

Oil deposits surfaced on Gunton beach, in Lowestoft, 2020.

Oil deposits that surfaced on Gunton beach, in Lowestoft, in 2020. - Credit: Submitted

James Mallinder, East Suffolk's cabinet member for the environment, said: “Establishing the extent of the buried oil deposits will give us the information necessary to make a detailed assessment of the risks they pose to beach users and the wider environment.

"What happens next will depend on the results of our analysis of the findings of the survey work.

Most Read

"Any excavations at the site may affect the rate of coastal erosion, and the surrounding environment, and so any decision about removing the deposits will be carefully considered.”

Oil on North Beach in Lowestoft.

Oil on North Beach in Lowestoft in January this year. - Credit: Danielle Booden

The council said that earlier this year, large outcrops of oil were exposed following a spate of high tides and some of the loose drier material was removed by East Suffolk Norse, working with a specialist disposal company.

A council spokesman added: "During the summer, the beach has built up, re-covering the previously exposed material.

"Any freshly exposed material will be dealt with in a similar manner."

If you are concerned by any exposed material, please call 03330 162000.



Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter