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Lowestoft: Call to ban oil transfers

PUBLISHED: 09:58 19 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:35 06 July 2010

AN MP is calling for action to stop the transfer of oil between tankers off one of East Anglia's most scenic stretches of coastline amid fears that a spill would lead to an environmental disaster.

AN MP is calling for action to stop the transfer of oil between tankers off one of East Anglia's most scenic stretches of coastline amid fears that a spill would lead to an environmental disaster.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer wants the government to put an end to the practice off the coast at Southwold where large numbers of tankers have been congregating in recent months.

It has emerged that Southwold is the only place in England where licensed ship-to-ship oil transfers can take place.

Former environment minister Mr Gummer and local people say the practice should be banned in the area because it could have potentially catastrophic implications for the environment and tourism in the event of an oil spill.

Ship-to-ship oil transfer used to also take place off the coast of Lyme Bay in Dorset but is no longer permitted following lobbying by local people.

Mr Gummer said: “We have to think about the danger in the busiest shipping channel in the world and the danger of an oil spill when transferring from one ship to another. Most of the things that are happening should be done in port where they can be properly monitored and controlled.

“It has been stopped almost everywhere else off the coast. I do not see why we should have the threat to our coast. We are hugely dependent on tourism and we have got a significant amount of wildlife that needs to be protected.

“The transfer of oil is a particularly dangerous activity. I am seeking to get the government to stop it.”

Mark Thompson, who runs a B&B in Reydon, near Southwold, said: “If you walk along the seafront at night at Southwold there is an almost continual unbroken line of lights on the horizon. It is a little bit like looking at Blackpool.”

He said the reason for the oil transfers is that large tankers cannot get through to Russian oil terminals in the Baltic, so smaller tankers travel through into the North Sea and disgorge into super tankers, which then travel to the Far East.

Mr Thompson pointed out that if ship-to-ship oil transfer was carried out in a harbour or jetty the oil transporters would be liable for dues. He said: “A significant oil spill will devastate this coast, its wildlife and its entire tourist industry.”

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said that ship-to-ship oil transfers generally take place between eight and 12 nautical miles out to sea but there was no requirement after that for ship owners to request permission. He said these transfers take place across the globe and that UK transfer operators have an excellent safety record.

The tankers off Southwold are thought to come from as far afield as Hong Kong, Greece, Libya and Panama.

In June a tanker which was moored to close to the shore sparked a number of major gas alerts in Lowestoft and Southwold when it vented its tanks of methyl mercaptan, the smelly gas which is added to household gas to make it smell the way it does. Vessel crews were told it needed to be at least three miles offshore before cleaning its tanks.


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