Council to tackle exposed oil on beach after 1978 tanker spill

Oil on North Denes beach in Lowestoft.

Oil on North Denes beach in Lowestoft. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Work to remove oil from a Lowestoft beach after a tanker spill more than 40 years ago will take place, a council has confirmed.

But East Suffolk Council also told members of the public that their "well intended" efforts to clean up North Denes beach may be doing more harm than good. 

Crude oil became exposed in January on North Denes beach, in Lowestoft, with the district council confirming an investigation into the possibility of removing the spillage was ongoing amid concerns removal would accelerate erosion of the beach.

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.

Oil on North Denes beach in Lowestoft.

Oil on North Denes beach in Lowestoft. - Credit: Danielle Booden

A spokesperson for the council has now confirmed work will begin to remove some of the crude oil.

They said: "While we do not believe the consistency, composition and quantities of the oil residues involved have posed a threat to the environment or to marine life to date, we appreciate concerns have been raised which we are actively seeking to address.

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"We are aware continuing erosion may exacerbate the situation, particularly in light of recent high tides which have accelerated the rate of exposure, revealing larger outcrops of oil in the last few weeks.

"At this stage, it will be possible to remove some of the loose, drier material, without causing damage to the immediate area.

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"This work will be constantly reviewed and will cease immediately if there is any risk of pollutants being released into the marine environment."

The work will be carried out by East Suffolk Norse, working with a specialist disposal company.

It comes as a petition calling for the clean up of the exposed oil passed 500 signatures, with members of the public taking matters into their own hands.

Oil on North Denes beach in Lowestoft.

Oil on North Denes beach in Lowestoft. - Credit: Danielle Booden

The spokesperson said: "We are aware that some members of the public have tried to remove deposits themselves and, although we understand this was well intentioned, we would ask people not to disturb the deposits as this may release pollutants into the local environment and, therefore, requires removal by specialist contractors.

"It is not clear how much of the oil we can remove at this stage. However, as more deposits are exposed by erosion, we will aim to remove them wherever possible.

"Work is continuing to identify a cost-effective way of locating the buried deposits to give us the option of dealing with them before they are exposed by the tide, if necessary."

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