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Oil spill could be 'disastrous'

PUBLISHED: 13:58 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:31 06 July 2010

CONSERVATION chiefs and local MPs have hit out at the large number of oil tankers moored off the coast of Lowestoft and Southwold.

With the Government believed to be pressing ahead with its plans to ban ship-to-ship transfers off its coastline, which could force tankers used for floating storage and anchored near locations such as Southwold to find new locations, concerns were raised this week about the potentially catastrophic impact of any spill from the tankers and also the adverse affect it has had on local fishermen.

CONSERVATION chiefs and local MPs have hit out at the large number of oil tankers moored off the coast of Lowestoft and Southwold.

With the Government believed to be pressing ahead with its plans to ban ship-to-ship transfers off its coastline, which could force tankers used for floating storage and anchored near locations such as Southwold to find new locations, concerns were raised this week about the potentially catastrophic impact of any spill from the tankers and also the adverse affect it has had on local fishermen.

Mr Blizzard was told this week by local fishermen that the tankers are anchored in some of the best fishing grounds used by them and there are now so many ships that the fishermen cannot weave in and out for safety reasons. Fishermen also believe that the anchors are doing damage to the sea bed, which will affect future fish stocks.

“Our local fishermen now operate in small boats and depend on inshore fishing,” Mr Blizzard said. The large number of oil tankers is clearly getting in the way and I think this is wrong and unfair. The oil tankers could go anywhere; our fishermen can't.

Mr Blizzard has now written to Fisheries and Marine Environment Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, asking him to take action on the other oil tankers that are lying idle off the coast.

It is now believed the number of tankers moored off north Suffolk stands at 42 - and this week conservation chiefs aired their concerns about the potential effect a spill could have on the environmentally important Heritage Coast, which is also an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Malcolm Farrow, of Suffolk Coast and Heaths, said even a small spill could be disastrous for fauna and flora, especially visiting birds such as red throated diver, cormorant and great crested grebe.

Mr Farrow said: “It's a real concern because even a small spill or accident has the potential to be disastrous.

“It is an environmentally sensitive stretch of coastline and one of the finest in the country.”

Audrey Boyle, spokesperson for Suffolk Wildlife Trust, added: “There are a lot of international conservation designations all along our coast and any spill would have the potential to be pretty catastrophic.”

With Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer having spoken to Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to secure a promise that any future transfer of oil “must be done in a port,” Mr Gummer said: “I have had an undertaking from the Government and hopefully we should see some change before Christmas - however I will be watching the situation very carefully.

“A spill of any kind could be tremendously damaging to a very vulnerable coastline.”

Despite these comments, Journal reader Terry Trelawny Gower, from Kirkley, admitted he was “rather sceptical” of the MP's claims that Ship to Ship Transfers (STST) off the UK coast will be totally banned by the end of December 2009.

“The MPs must be fully aware that a consultation process on the status of STST was carried out by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) in 2008. The purpose of the consultation document was to solicit the opinions of various bodies having an interest in the subject. The list includes harbour authorities, environmental organisations and ship operators. I have not seen any reference to Messrs Blizzard and Gummer in this consultation process,” he added.

“Subsequent to the consultation, draft regulations (Marine Pollution - Merchant Shipping (STST) Regulations 2008) were produced for presentation to Parliament in early 2010. These regulations do not seek to ban STS operations; the purpose being to exercise effective control of STST,” he claimed.


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