Probe into paraffin wax washed up on Suffolk and Norfolk beaches

Large lumps of paraffin wax being washed up on the region's beaches may be from oil tankers moored off the north Suffolk coast, it was revealed yesterday.

During the last six months clumps of paraffin wax have been found on Suffolk and Norfolk beaches, including Lowestoft, Southwold, Sizewell, Winterton, Happisburgh and Waxham.

The mysterious deposits are being investigated by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths' area of natural beauty unit, which covers Kessingland to Felixstowe.

One line of investigation being probed by the unit is that the solidified paraffin wax may come from the fleet of oil tankers moored off the coast between Lowestoft and Southwold.

Paraffin wax can be used by tankers to seal or plug pipes. flush tanks and coat some hulls.

The tankers have provoked a storm of controversy in Suffolk as people fear they pose an environmental risk as they transfer oil between vessels.

News of the paraffin wax's possible origin has stoked up further concerns that the tankers could threaten the livelihood of popular tourist destinations, such as Southwold.

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The government is considering the outright banning of oil tanker transfer zones in UK waters. But shipping minister Mike Penning is also looking at making Sole Bay the only area of British territorial waters where ship to ship transfers can take place.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said if the paraffin wax originated from tankers it was another strong argument for why the gigantic vessels should be banned from coming within 12 miles of the coast to prevent any oil spills or leakages causing an environmental hazard.

He said: 'I have been aware of this problem for a while. It appears to be washing up along Suffolk and Norfolk.

'Although it is still not clear where it is coming from, it does seem to be too much of a coincidence that it is being washed up while the number of tankers has gone up.

'Although we never want to sound alarmist, the tankers pose an environmental risk. A spill could wreck the tourism industry.

'All it takes is for one slip, one tanker to hit another, to cause a spill.

'People in Southwold are becoming more and more aware of the issue.'

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths area of natural beauty unit became aware of the paraffin wax after adopt a beach organisers and estuary wardens started finding them in December.

Each report is being investigated by the unit and it is trying to establish if the paraffin wax poses any environmental risk.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is also analysing a lump of paraffin wax washed up at Sizewell after Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey arranged for it to be sent in.

Dr Coffey said: 'The sample has been sent off and we are currently waiting for the results.'

Lynn Allen, countryside officer with Suffolk Coast and Heaths, said: 'We are no further forward in conclusively identifying the provenance of the paraffin wax, but we do know it is being found along a large distance of the Suffolk coast, and into Norfolk.

'At the moment it seems to be suggested that the substance could have something to do with ship to ship transfers.'

Mrs Allen is asking anyone who finds washed up paraffin wax to report it to her, with details on when and where it was found and the size of it, so it can help her investigations.

Contact Mrs Allen on 01394 384948 or email her at lynn.allen@suffolk.gov.uk