Beach pollution at Southwold, Pakefield and Easton Bavents was legal

PUBLISHED: 10:46 14 October 2013 | UPDATED: 10:46 14 October 2013

CONCERNS: Wangford vet Walter Stohr with some palm oil that has been washed up on local beaches. Below, the oil collected by Mr Stohr's surgery after several dogs fell ill after eating it.

pictures: NICK BUTCHER

CONCERNS: Wangford vet Walter Stohr with some palm oil that has been washed up on local beaches. Below, the oil collected by Mr Stohr's surgery after several dogs fell ill after eating it. pictures: NICK BUTCHER

Nick Butcher Photography 01502 714843

A yellow substance found washed up on Waveney’s beaches was legally discharged into the sea, it has emerged.

Waveney District Council began a clean-up operation after the residue started appearing on beaches between Lowestoft and Southwold, and pledged to identify who was responsible and make them pay.

Wangford Veterinary Clinic also issued a warning after a number of pet dogs fell ill after licking or eating the substance, and it is feared that it could have the same effect on seals and other marine mammals.

But it later emerged that the residue – identified as palm oil – was probably legally discharged by a ship washing out its tanks off the Suffolk coast.

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said: “MCA counter pollution confirmed that the substance is palm oil.

“Although we cannot categorically state that it has come from one particular vessel, it was first reported on September 20, which was within 48 hours of a legal discharge of palm oil whilst a vessel was tank-washing 33 miles to the north east of Southwold.

“Under Marpol regulations (the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships), it is legal to discharge up to 75 litres per tank of this category Y substance.”

Stephen Ardley, who has responsibility for the environment at Waveney District Council, expressed his disappointment at the news and said a similar thing had happened last year.

He said: “It seems odd that actions such as these can lead to an expensive clean-up operation and that we just have to deal with it. Our priority is to keep our beaches safe and clean. However, everyone must take responsibility and from our point of view this kind of activity is unwelcome and unacceptable.”

The mayor of Southwold, Simon Tobin, said the situation was “completely unacceptable”.

“We are completely unhappy with palm oil or any other material being allowed to be dumped at sea,” he said. “We don’t know the true implications of the material, be it on marine life, dogs or humans, and therefore I am very upset that this is allowed to happen.

“If this had happened at the height of the summer, it would have been very damaging to the Southwold tourist industry.”

Wangford Veterinary Clinic posted a warning on its Facebook site last week after seeing several dogs that had become ill after eating the palm oil on beaches in Southwold, Easton Bavents and Pakefield.

Staff collected a sample of the substance and published a picture online with the warning: “Please prevent your dogs from eating this as it very likely to cause vomiting and diarrhoea which can very quickly cause dehydration.

“Because palm oil is a fat there is the potential to cause more serious health problems.”

A Suffolk Wildlife Trust spokesman said it was concerned that the palm oil also had the potential to affect other animals in the same way, particularly marine mammals.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous now plans to bring the issue to the government’s attention and push for clarification on who should bear the clean-up costs.

He said: “It is something that has been going on around the world for a long time.

“The Dutch government are compiling some information about it because it is a particular problem in the low country. They plan to give it to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) highlighting the extent of the issue.”

He added: “Clearly it is something that needs to be looked at.

“I will draw it to the attention of the government and ask them to have regard to the Dutch report to the IMO when it comes forward. I will be asking whether there is any way that the cost of clean-up to local authorities can be reimbursed to them in some way.”

He said he had spoken with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which said the Dutch government would not be requesting that the rules and regulations are changed and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do so.

“It would need universal agreement and would take between four and six years,” he said. “If they were to regulate it more a lot of money would have to be invested in port facilities so tanks could be washed out there.”

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