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Tanker pollution is cause for concern

PUBLISHED: 05:32 25 April 2011

LOW-level pollution caused by tankers that gather in Sole Bay is more worrying than the risk of an oil spill, Southwold Town Council said this week.

The council has never before publicly backed or condemned the controversial proposals to allow ship-to-ship oil transfers off the coast between Southwold to Lowestoft. But, amid continuing public opposition to the idea, it has now agreed to write to the shipping minister Mike Penning expressing its concerns.

Town councillors are worried about the low-level pollution and are telling the minister – who has given himself extra time to decide whether the controversial practice should be completely banned from UK waters or permitted in certain ‘zones’ – that they would “prefer not to have” ship-to-ship transfers in Sole Bay.

While the council’s most recent discussion about the tankers was held behind closed doors due to the forthcoming election, the minutes of that meeting – published yesterday – reveal that members would prefer to have the vessels within territorial waters where they were subject to tighter controls.

But they remain worried about the impact the huge tankers are having on the town.

One unnamed councillor suggested that the debate over ship-to-ship transfers had been skewed by the focus on “the worst possible scenario” of a collision or major oil spill. The minutes record the councillor saying that “While this would be a disaster, it was, perhaps, not a great risk. Of more concern was the low-level pollution caused by ships running engines and generators constantly – a brown haze on the horizon was a regular occurrence – and the practice of hosing oily decks with detergents which went into the sea”.

Concerns were also voiced about sewage and litter coming from the ships and it was also noted that, while there was an economic benefit to Lowestoft, there was none for Southwold.

Another councillor suggested that the suggestion the tankers would drive tourists away was “spurious”.

A vote revealed that five councillors were against the transfers, three were in favour, and two abstained.

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