Ship-to-ship oil transfers off Suffolk set to be banned

Stephen PullingerShip-to-ship oil transfers off the north Suffolk coast, which have raised fears of pollution, could be banned before Christmas, it was claimed last night.Stephen Pullinger

Ship-to-ship oil transfers off the north Suffolk coast, which have raised fears of pollution, could be banned before Christmas.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, who has championed a local campaign to stop the practice, said he had received a personal commitment from secretary of state for transport Lord Adonis that the government would move fast to use its powers to stop transfers in UK waters.

The sea between Lowestoft and Southwold has become a favoured place for small tankers bringing oil from Russia to transfer their cargo to larger vessels unable to negotiate the Baltic Sea. In recent months, more than 30 tankers at a time have been anchored off the Suffolk coast.

While local businesses such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, shops and taxis have welcomed the increase in trade from crew members coming ashore, an environmental lobby spearheaded by Mr Gummer and Waveney MP Bob Blizzard has highlighted the potential risks.

Mr Gummer said: "If you want to unload oil in a port, you have to observe proper environmental practices, and yet out to sea, where it is potentially much rougher and a far less safe environment, there are not the same rules.

"There is a real possibility of pollution along a stretch of coast, which includes Southwold and Aldeburgh, where a lot of people make their living from tourism."

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He acknowledged the boost to the local economy but said that would be the case if they came into port to transfer oil in a regulated way.

Mr Gummer said he hoped the ban in oil transfers would also help to reduce the number of ships using the area as a parking place as even cleaning out tanks and cleaning decks posed a risk of pollution.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "Ship-to-ship transfer operations have been common in UK waters for many years, with an excellent safety record both in terms of potential accidents and the impact on the environment.

"But, we have long said we are keen to ensure such operations are man-aged appropriately, which is why the Maritime and Coastguard Agency consulted on proposals last summer to regulate this practice. These proposals are under consideration."