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Oil transfers to be banned

PUBLISHED: 12:01 28 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:18 06 July 2010

SHIP to ship oil transfers at sea that are taking place in UK territorial waters off the coast of Lowestoft are to be banned by the government, Waveney MP, Bob Blizzard, has told his constituents today.

SHIP to ship oil transfers at sea that are taking place in UK territorial waters off the coast of Lowestoft are to be banned by the government, Waveney MP, Bob Blizzard, has told his constituents today.

Legislation will be placed before parliament by the end of the year.

The MP explained, “There are at present no regulations governing ship to ship transfers of hazardous substances like oil outside of harbours. While the industry thus far has a good safety record and is being monitored by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the increase in this activity heightens the risk. If something can go wrong, it will eventually go wrong, with potentially disastrous consequences and we cannot wait for that to happen before taking action. According to the MCA there have been some minor incidents in recent months.

In 2008, the Department for Transport, on the recommendation of the MCA, drew up draft legislation to ban ship to ship transfers at sea. However, public consultation on this showed that the regulations needed tightening to be effective and so the MCA and the DfT have been drawing up revised legislation to put before parliament by the end of this year. It is expected to be enacted by next spring.

Bob Blizzard said, “I welcome this legislation. While oil tanker transfers do result in a small contribution to the local economy, the risk is always there and an oil spill would damage Lowestoft's reputation for a long time and harm the environment too.

“I am proud to proclaim our ambition to make Lowestoft the offshore wind energy industry capital of Britain, but I don't feel it would be beneficial to boast that we are this country's oil tanker transfer capital! But this is what our coast has become. We have seen an increase in this activity because Lowestoft is now the only place left in Britain where out of harbour oil transfers are being permitted. It is predominantly oil from Russia that is being transferred from smaller vessels to larger ones that are too deep for the shallower Baltic Sea. While some of the ships we can see are simply standing idle during the recession and will disappear as the world economy recovers, oil supplies from Russia are likely to increase”.

The new laws can only apply within the 12 mile limit of UK waters. However, beyond that, the government has also secured an agreement at the International Maritime Organisation which has passed regulations so that ships have to notify the coastal state (in our case the UK government) which is then entitled to check documents and equipment and ban any ships that do not meet standards.

Last Friday, MCA surveillance showed that off our coast there were 26 stationary vessels, 12 in UK waters and 14 outside. None were carrying out ship to ship transfers at the time.

“The government is taking the strongest action within our territorial waters and has secured the best international agreement it could get to govern the seas beyond”, added Bob Blizzard.

Oil transfers are permitted in certain statutory port areas with deep water facilities where all necessary safety equipment is at hand.

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