Southwold offshore ship-to-ship oil transfer zone in Commons

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Media captionThis area off Southwold could become an exclusive zone to transfer oil between tankers

Campaigners are making a last-ditch attempt to prevent a ship-to-ship oil transfer zone off the Suffolk coast being created.

The government wants an area near Southwold to be the UK's sole designated zone and a House of Commons committee is looking at it on Tuesday.

The government said transfers need to be controlled in one place.

Opponents said all UK waters should be used or ships should use ports.

The Commons' Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee is looking at the proposal, which could then be passed by Parliament.

Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, will attend the committee and argue that regulations already cover all UK waters and one zone is not necessary.

Increased traffic

The last Labour government drafted regulations banning offshore transfers so that ships used ports, but this has been revised by the coalition government.

Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Labour's shadow shipping minister, said: "There is an argument about having a controlled zone, but the difficulty is that this traffic is increasing and Southwold will act like a magnet for many ships that would not otherwise have gone there.

"We're missing the opportunity of increasing investment and developing greater expertise for safer transfers of cargo in controlled harbour areas where they have the technology to deal with any spills quickly and efficiently with the minimum damage to the environment and wildlife."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "Ship-to-ship transfer operations have been carried out routinely in UK waters for decades with a generally excellent safety record.

"These regulations recognise the need to balance the needs of industry with the importance of protecting the UK coastline.

"The regulations are now in force, guidance has been published and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is handling applications for ship-to-ship transfers in line with the regulatory regime."

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