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MP's regrets over oil transfers near Southwold

PUBLISHED: 10:54 07 February 2011

SUFFOLK Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey has admitted to regrets over her part in the move to limit ship-to-ship oil transfers to coastal waters off Southwold.

Many in the town were angered when the Conservative MP signed an Early Day Motion last year to overturn a proposed ban on the controversial practice, which regularly takes place between ships moored in Sole Bay.

And, in December, Shipping Minister Mike Penning announced the transfer of oil between ships would still be allowed in UK waters – but only off the north Suffolk coast.

Dr Coffey was confronted by about 30 residents after the town’s Conservative Club AGM on Friday night over the legislation, which is due to come into force in April.

The Southwold and Reydon Society and the town’s Chamber of Trade have raised serious concerns about the oil transfers, fearing the potential for disaster in the event of a spillage and the impact on the town’s image in the eyes of tourists.

Their discontent is heightened by the fact that Dr Coffey’s predecessor as MP for Suffolk Coastal, John Gummer, had pushed for an outright ban on the transfers.

Dr Coffey said she understood why people were angry and pledged to seek answers from the Government over why Southwold had been singled out.

“I said [on Friday night] ‘look, I hold my hands up – I haven’t handled this very well and I should have discussed it more widely’. I have learned from that.

“I do understand people’s concerns and I am trying to get straight answers from the minister about why it’s only Southwold – we still haven’t got clear reasons.”

She said one of her concerns about the plans was that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency – which will regulate the transfers – only had jurisdiction for the waters 12 miles out to sea.

Dr Coffey said she hoped to arrange a public meeting in Southwold next month to discuss the issue.

Dr John Stewart, chairman of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said there was “tremendous concern” in the town about the oil transfers. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s all risk and no benefit. It’s been said that the risk is very small and that’s all very well but the consequences of that small risk could be considerable.”

The area off Sole Bay is used by small tankers bringing oil from Russia to transfer to larger vessels unable to negotiate the Baltic Sea.

It was announced last month that specialist equipment in the event of a “worst-case scenario” oil spill would be moved from Cambridgeshire to storage at Lowestoft.

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