Public consultation on ship-to-ship transfers off Lowestoft to Southwold coast

There will be a consultation on the decision to make a stretch of Suffolk coast the UK's only offshore area for ship-to-ship oil transfers following public outcry.

Amidst fears that restricting tanker transfers to the coast between Lowestoft and Southwold could damage local economy and put the environment at risk, shipping minister Mike Penning has agreed to open a discussion on his controversial proposal.

Mr Penning moved away from outright prohibition of ship-to-ship transfers in UK waters last December and instead announced plans to restict them to the Suffolk coast come April.

This afternoon, MP for Suffolk Coastal Therese Coffey revealed that a full public consultation would now go ahead.

She said: 'I have been pressing the minister on this and while it is unusual for a minister to open up consultation on a Statutory Instrument - a delegated legislation made by a minister rather than parliament, he has recognised the strength of public feeling on this.

'This is a fresh opportunity for people who felt they were not heard last summer to put forward their views on the matter'.

Dr Coffey added that as soon as the public consultation is opened she would provide a link to it on her website.

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While the Waveney Chamber of Commerce welcomed the proposal, hoping it would bring more money to the region, many felt the risks far outweighed any benefits.

Amongst those opposed was John Perkins, secretary of Southwold and Reydon Society.

Today he said: 'I believe this is the only time a government department has extended its consultation time because of public outcry. Now we are hoping that they will change their mind.'

Southwold mayor Sue Allen said: 'It's been quite a diversive issue. It has divided opinion and I'm glad this consultation is going ahead. It gives people time to have their say.

'The question that's being asked is why does it have to happen in this area.'

While fears over what might happen in the event of an oil spill were partially allayed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's recent decision to store emergency clean-up equiptment at Lowestoft - not a two-hour drive away at Ely in Cambrigeshire, those opposed to transfers off the Suffolk coast continue to call for further safety measures.

Their concerns were further fuelled this week after an oil tanker hit a fishing boat off the Lowestoft coast.

As previously reported by the EDP, two fishermen said they were lucky to be alive after a Singapore-owned tanker crashed into their boat's bow on Tuesday. They claimed tragedy was only avoided when their anchor snapped, stopping the smaller vessel from capsizing.