Concern over ship-to-ship transfers off Suffolk coast

  • 26 February 2011
  • From the section Suffolk

The leader of a Scottish council which has 30 years experience of ship-to-ship oil transfers has expressed concern at plans to designate the sea off the coast of Suffolk specifically for such operations.

The government has put forward the proposal for the waters off Southwold.

Convener of Orkney Islands Council, Stephen Hagan, said the open water off Suffolk would be riskier than the calm of Orkney's Scapa Flow port.

The government says any oil transfers would be strictly controlled.

Mr Hagan spoke of his concerns in an interview with the BBC Politics Show in the East - which will be broadcast on Sunday.

'Higher risks'

The Orkney Island Council owns the Scapa Flow port, which is where these transfers take place.

Over the past 10 years, they have transferred 100 million barrels of oil and reaped £5.6m in revenue for the island.

Mr Hagan said: "We bring the vessels into port. We anchor one vessel and the other vessel is drawn up alongside it with our tugs.

"Whereas, I understand, that in Southwold in the more open water there, the ships are actually moving at the time the transfer takes place.

"I think the risks are much, much higher there than we have."

Image caption Tankers can be seen off the Suffolk coast from Southwold pier

"There will be little benefit to the local community [in Southwold]. I think it will be the oil companies that will benefit mostly."

On the issue of safety, Mr Hagan added: "It is probably an awful lot safer safer in our environment where we have a safe, sheltered harbour.

"We have all the facilities, we have an oil port right beside us and have all the facilities to deal with an oil spill. This is a much, much safer operation."

But shipping minister Mike Penning said he believed regular transfers off the coast of Suffolk would be safe.

"Ship-to-ship transfer operations have been common in UK waters for many years with a generally excellent safety record," he said.

Mr Penning added that the government would ensure that any transfer between ships was "properly monitored and regulated".

The BBC Politics Show in the East is due to be broadcast at 1200 GMT on Sunday.

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