0il spill risk allowed to continue

OIL barons were today told they can sail rust-bucket tankers past Suffolk's coast for another two years, before they must start phasing them out.It means the county's beautiful coastline will remain at risk from a disastrous spill – though environmentalists say the biggest worry to wildlife is from ships illegally washing out their tanks at sea.

By Richard Cornwell

OIL barons were today told they can sail rust-bucket tankers past Suffolk's coast for another two years, before they must start phasing them out.

It means the county's beautiful coastline will remain at risk from a disastrous spill – though environmentalists say the biggest worry to wildlife is from ships illegally washing out their tanks at sea.

International shipping companies have been arguing for longer to get rid of old tankers – otherwise, they claim, there will not be enough vessels to transport oil around the world.

Euro MPs decided single-hull tankers should be immediately barred from carrying heavy oil in European waters and these timebombs waiting to spill their deadly cargoes will not be allowed to transport any oil at all by 2010.

But while heavy will only be transported in the North Sea in safer double-hull vessels, there will still be plenty of other oils travelling in older and less safe single-hull tankers for some years to come.

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The European Union has also called for a worldwide ban on heavy oil in single-hull ships.

After a series of debates last week, the International Maritime Organisation decided this "would entail a major impact" on the oil industry.

It agreed with the idea but said it will not start a worldwide ban and phase-out of older tankers until 2005.

Research has shown 68 per cent of the world's oil could not be transported if the ban was brought in now, while delaying the move by two years will enable enough double-hull tankers to be built and programmes to be drawn up to dispose of those banned from the seas.

Some countries are against the plan. Japan claims it has 183 tankers carrying 57 million tonnes of oil a year and it would be impossible to replace them by 2010.

But while phasing out of single-hull tankers should safeguard Suffolk's internationally-important shores and estuaries against a major spill, it will still not stop its main oil pollution problems.

Most of the oil washed up on beaches and nature reserves comes from vessels illegally flushing out their tanks at sea – and these culprits are never caught.

The Evening Star launched its Stop the Black Death campaign after last winter's incident when 300 seabirds were killed and another 600 left stricken and covered with oil from a slick which washed ashore.

Fist-sized lumps of oil were found from Walberswick to Felixstowe, though the source remained a mystery.

Tankers travel up and down the Suffolk coast every day, taking oil to northern Europe but also to refineries at Harwich.

n What do you think – is enough being done to protect our coastline from disaster at sea? Write to Evening Star letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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