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Southwold: Bid to ease oil tanker spill fears

PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 January 2011

Tankers anchor off the coast at Southwold

Tankers anchor off the coast at Southwold

Archant

EMERGENCY equipment to deal with any oil spillage when ship-to-ship transfers are restricted to waters off the north Suffolk coast is now to be stored at Lowestoft, it has been confirmed.

Southwold and Lowestoft residents reacted with concern when it was announced last year that all oil transfers between ships in UK waters would only be allowed off their stretch of coastline from April.

The waters will be used to moor tankers bringing oil from Russia, so they can transfer their cargo to larger vessels unable to negotiate the Baltic Sea. The practice was due to be banned under the previous Government.

One of the many local concerns was that booms and equipment to deal with a spillage were stored in Cambridgeshire and would take some time to reach any incident.

But Southwold Town Council has now received assurances from the Department for Transport (DfT) that emergency equipment will be moved to Lowestoft.

Town clerk Jennifer Hursell said the move was “a good step” and that the general issue of ship-to-ship transfers would also be raised at the annual town meeting on March 21 for people to air their concerns.

Writing to the council, Ruth Bootland, a DfT official, said the “strict monitoring and approval process” carried out on oil tankers by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would continue under the new regulations.

“A comprehensive audit and operating procedure will be placed upon ship-to-ship transfer operators, which will ensure that high standards are maintained throughout the full range of ship-to-ship transfer activities,” she said.

“In addition, ship-to-ship transfer operators will have to seek a formal accreditation from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

“The dedicated response equipment to meet a worst case scenario oil spill will be provided at Lowestoft and maintained to be ready for immediate deployment.”

It comes as Lord Condon, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner, asked a question in the House of Lords about the assessment of the level of emergency response to a major oil spillage off the Suffolk coast, in view of planned coastguard station cuts.

Earl Atlee, a Conservative whip, said: “The arrangements for dealing with oil spills are unaffected by the current proposals for modernising the coastguard.

“Emergency planning, including monitoring and approval of ship-to-ship activity, is a Maritime and Coastguard Agency Headquarters function.”

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