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Tankers divide Lowestoft and Southwold

PUBLISHED: 09:40 11 September 2009 | UPDATED: 12:01 06 July 2010

THE fleet of tankers moored off the Suffolk coast has led to a split in the communities of Lowestoft and Southwold.

Residents in both towns are divided as to whether the tankers are a threat to the local environment or an economic benefit.

THE fleet of tankers moored off the Suffolk coast has led to a split in the communities of Lowestoft and Southwold.

Residents in both towns are divided as to whether the tankers are a threat to the local environment or an economic benefit.

The wrangle kicked off this week as it was discovered that 10 tankers, moored off Tor Bay in Devon, are said to be worth an estimated £10,000 a month to the local economy.

The transfer of oil between tankers off the north Suffolk coast has given a much-needed boost to the local economy but many people are alarmed at the prospect of a damaging accident and possible turmoil to the multi-million pound tourism industry.

James Reeder, vice-president of the Lowestoft and Waveney Chamber of Commerce, called for a public meeting on the issue so that the facts could be understood and people could make an “informed” decision about them.

Mr Reeder, a former deck officer with Shell Tankers UK, said: “There is no doubt there is a lot of mis-information about the tankers off our coast. While these transfers have been taking place for many years there has certainly been a big increase in recent months which has alarmed some people.”

Mr Reeder said the transfer of oil between tankers is strictly controlled and the industry has an enviable safety record that is second to none.

“The people involved in these transfers are world class at what they do. We should be encouraging this industry as it brings a much-needed boost to our economy. I do not believe that this work will have an impact on our Blue Flag beaches and the tourism industry but a public meeting where everyone can ask what questions they like to a panel of experts could be beneficial,” he said.

Mr Reeder said it was not only companies like East Anglian-based Fender Care Marine, who make the large floating devices covered with tyres that act as a buffer between tankers, who benefit from the industry.

“Our hotels, bed and breakfasts, shops and taxi companies all benefit from the crews staying in Lowestoft. There is no way Lowestoft and north Suffolk can afford to turn away the benefit the transfers bring as it would only go elsewhere, probably abroad,” said Mr Reeder.

However, Waveney District Council vice-chairman Simon Tobin said Southwold was not getting any benefit from the transfers and faced a catastrophe if there was ever a spillage.

Mr Tobin, who is also chairman of the Community Emergency Group at Southwold and Reydon, said there was a greater risk of an accident at sea with these tankers building up in numbers.

“I will not just look away from just being told that it has been going on for years, etc. The build up is unbelievable and at night it looks like a Christmas tree at sea with all the takers lit,” he said.

Mr Tobin said that although there were claims that the exercise brings in a lot of work for the region there was “very little in our area” around Southwold where a 10-mile radius brings in £25m a year to the local economy through tourism.

“I call for a full Government review into this procedure that is occurring off one of the most beautiful English coastal resorts in the country and then we will see if the Maritime and Coastguard Agency sit fully comfortable with the exercise,” said Mr Tobin.

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said that ship to ship transfers took place between eight and 12 nautical miles out to sea.

He said the transfers take place across the globe and that UK transfer operators have an excellent safety record.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Torbay Council's harbour committee Robert Horne said each tanker anchored off their coast could bring in £1,000 a month to the economy with the required crew changes, supplies and spend on shore.

“Any form of maritime activity is good for Brixham being a commercial port. We are able to provide small engineering works and we are very lucky in that respect. Ships in the bay are always welcome. Living by the sea anything that happens in the bay has to be appreciated,” he said.

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said there are currently 10 ships anchored in Lyme Bay, a further 10 off Falmouth and 37 off Southwold.

What do you think about the tanker transfers? Write to The Journal, 147 London Road North, Lowestoft, or email russell.cook@archant.co.uk

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