Decision looms over Southwold oil tanker transfers

CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to allow tankers to gather off the coast of Southwold are hoping a long-awaited decision on the future of ship-to-ship transfers will address their concerns for the tourism trade.

A announcement is expected in the next fortnight on whether an all-out ban on transfers within UK territorial waters should be maintained or lifted, or if tankers should be allowed use an exclusive zone off Sole Bay.

The campaigners, who want the Department for Transport (DfT) to enforce the ban, are awaiting the result of an extended consultation into what has become an increasingly controversial issue in Waveney.

The least they expect is compromise, and a shift in location of the proposed transfer zone, regulated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, 12 miles out to sea between Lowestoft and Southwold.

The previous Labour government introduced a blanket ban last year on the transfer of oil between ships within UK waters and this had been due to take effect from October 1. However, the current shipping minister, Mike Penning, delayed it coming into force and he has been weighing up calls to lift this ban in Sole Bay – creating an exclusive transfer zone where small tankers bringing oil from Russia can switch their load to larger vessels.

People along Waveney's coast have campaigned against the move, saying the tankers are having an adverse effect on the holiday trade – and that an oil spill could devastate Waveney's seaside tourism industry.

John Perkins, of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said this week: 'We are hoping for some movement. If they really are a listening government, as they say they are, we expect a major shift.

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'Before we intervened, the government was adamant this was going to happen, come hell or high water.

'But they have had to think again after receiving submissions from the public and can be under no illusion about the strength of concern. This is not something they can do willy-nilly.

'Tourism is a major industry in this area. A threat to tourism threatens the vulnerability of this town. We suspect we'll end up with something in the middle and the ships will be shoved over the horizon.'

Some members of Waveney's business community believe that the transfers should be given the go ahead within UK waters as this would allow them to be more closely controlled, rather than driving the tankers further offshore where they cannot be easily monitored. They say that servicing the ships also bring benefits to local firms.

A DfT spokesman said Mr Penning's decision would be announced shortly, but declined to give a date.

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