Minister pledges to listen over Suffolk tanker transfer fears

SHIPPING minister Mike Penning has pledged he will listen to local people's concerns about ship-to-ship oil transfers taking place off the Suffolk coast.

But he insisted the new regulations – which will restrict the oil transfers to waters off Southwold – would improve safety for a practice that would take place regardless.

Mr Penning said the Sole Bay area was designated for the ship-to-ship transfers because that is the only area where there is currently demand – and that if demand was shown elsewhere, the regulations could be adapted.

'The whole principle is a safety issue, to control something that has to happen, to make it as safe as possible and to meet the demands of the community as well as the demands of the industry,' he said.

'I am listening to people's concerns, believe me. That's why we have extended the consultation.

'I'm trying to be as open and objective as possible and I'm happy to talk to people about the issues.'

Ships have used the Sole Bay area off the coast to transfer oil between ships for many years, although the previous Government tried to introduce a ban last year.

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The practice is overseen by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which will have control over waters 12 miles out to sea under the regulations.

'There currently aren't any regulations and if there was a ban it would happen anyway, only outside our control,' said Mr Penning.

'I do understand the issues and that's why I am doing this – to improve safety and control. The oil companies want to do things the right way and they have been 'playing ball' anyway.

'This is actually a safe thing to do and there is no evidence of any incidents. It does also bring jobs to the area.'

Mr Penning, whose mother lives in Rendlesham, said he had a great love of the Suffolk coast.

'There's no way I would ever jeopardise it,' he added.

The extended consultation is due to end on Thursday, March 10. The regulations were due to come into force next month but Mr Penning said responding to the consultation was likely to delay this.

People in Southwold have campaigned against the move, fearing the impact of an oil spill and an adverse effect on tourism.

John Perkins, of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said: 'We are hopeful we can change the minister's mind. We want to have the same say as everyone has had in the consultation.'

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