Crackdown to keep our beaches clean

KEEP rustbuckets away from Suffolk!That was the message today as Euro chiefs told owners who let dangerous vessels cause oil slicks and ruin beaches that their sub-standard ships will be banned in a new safety crackdown.

By Richard Cornwell

KEEP rustbuckets away from Suffolk!

That was the message today as Euro chiefs told owners who let dangerous vessels cause oil slicks and ruin beaches that their sub-standard ships will be banned in a new safety crackdown.

As the clean-up of Suffolk's shores continues and more seabirds are found dying, European leaders drew up a blacklist of oil tankers that fail standards and said they should be taken out of the water.

Their tough stance was backed by regional Euro MP Richard Howitt, who said stiff new penalties should also be brought in for those who deliberately pollute.

He also wants more resources and effort put into tracing the culprits – and to ensure they pay for the horrendous damage they cause.

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

The European Commission has drawn up a blacklist of 66 "very dangerous" substandard ships, which would be banned by now if governments had acted more quickly to introduce the latest EU maritime safety measures.

New figures also reveal that the UK vets only 27 per cent of vessels that enter its ports to see if they meet safety standards.

Environmental workers were continuing in their efforts to clean up after the ecological disaster wrought off the coast of Galacia after oil tanker Prestige – registered in the Bahamas, managed in Greece, and which was carrying oil for a Swiss company with Russian owners - sank in the Bay of Biscay.

Even closer to home, Mr Howitt was appalled by the mess left on Suffolk's shores by an oil slick last week after a tanker flushed out its hold on the North Sea.

The oil left nearly 300 seabirds dead, and many others contaminated, and fist-like tar lumps all along Felixstowe's award-winning holiday beaches.

Mr Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, is backing The Evening Star's campaign for more action to prosecute those who cause oil spills.

"These ships have to dock somewhere and if we have sufficient resolve it must be possible to track down the perpetrators," he said.

"Samples of oil washed up can be matched with oil from cargoes, radar surveillance can be used, satellite photography – there are all sorts of methods which can be used to track their routes.

"Unless they are pirates – and we still get those on the high seas today – there will be a way of finding them."

Mr Howitt said when ships flush their tanks at sea it was "a criminal act" and deliberate. Other oils spills were sometimes caused by neglect, which was as bad.

"The captain and the ship's owner should receive very stiff penalties. Oil washed ashore can cause harm that sometimes lasts for years for the wildlife and their habitat, but also effects tourism and the coastal community," he said.

"The current fines are insufficient to deter, and should be looked at again."

EU transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio wants a "once and for all ban" on the carrying of heavy fuel oil in single-hull oil tankers.

"Words are not enough: it is necessary to act and apply the maritime safety measures in full. Safety is the responsibility of everyone, and strict application of all the measures is the only way of ensuring that substandard ships do not fall through the safety net," she said.

The 66 ships on the blacklist have all been detained several times in European ports for failing to comply with maritime safety rules – and many more might have been identified if EU governments boosted their rate of spot checks.

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