Southwold: Debate over oil tankers intensifies

CONCERNS over government plans to make the north Suffolk coast the only place in the UK where ships can transfer oil to each other were the subject of debate today.

Shipping minister Mike Penning appeared on BBC television today to explain his plans to ban the practice of ship-to-ship oil transfers around the UK without a licence, which campaigners say would leave the stretch of coast off Southwold as the only place in the UK where such transfers can take place.

There are concerns that this would lead to an increase in the number of ships using the small stretch of coastline, and therefore increase the risk of an oil spill or accident.

But Mr Penning sought to reassure the public that safety would not be at risk.

“This has been going on off Southwold for years and years,” he said, “So those concerns were there when we had no controls over them. Now we have controls we can license each individual transfer.

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“I would not put safety at risk – I’m doing the exact opposite, I’m making sure that the safety regimes are in place so that if there is an incident, we can make sure make sure we’ve got people there to deal with it.

“I can’t stop ship-to-ship – it’s going to happen because that’s the modern way that things happen – but let’s make sure it’s safe and I intend to do that.”

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But Stephen Hagan, leader of the Orkney Islands Council and a shipping expert with 30 years’ experience, raised further concerns.

“We do ship-to-ship transfers completely differently in Orkney, and we would have concerns about vessels that are doing it while they are moving.

“My understanding is that in Southwold, the ships are not anchored at all. The two ships coming up alongside each other are actually moving at the time the transfer is done so the risk of spillage is much greater.

“We feel that ours is a safer operation.”

- See tomorrow’s paper for the full story.

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