End to 'black death' risk

RUST-bucket oil tankers are to be banned from sailing past Suffolk's coastline this month – with the vessels being phased out far faster then expected.

RUST-bucket oil tankers are to be banned from sailing past Suffolk's coastline this month – with the vessels being phased out far faster then expected.

From October 21 older single-hull tankers carrying heavy oils will no longer be welcome in European waters.

It will mean that ports such as Felixstowe and Harwich will no longer be able to accept the ships, cutting substantially the risk of a spill or accident affecting Suffolk's internationally-protected estuaries and shores.

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


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The news of the ban will please environmentalists who have feared that Suffolk's beautiful coast could one day see the type of disaster which has struck other beauty spots.

Following a series of high-profile accidents – culminating in the 26-year-old Prestige, which spilled 20,000 gallons of oil off northern Spain – MEPs decided action had to be taken swiftly to protect the environment.

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The older tankers, those built before 1980, were considered timebombs waiting to spill their deadly cargoes.

The new European Union rules will mean if they are carrying heavy grades of oil, single hull tankers will be banned from European ports, terminals and anchorages. Pre-1980 ones will be banned altogether and not allowed to fly the EU flag. Single-hull vessels will be phased out completely by 2010.

In future, heavy grades of oil will be transported by double-hull tankers only.

The oil industry was expecting the ban and has had several months to prepare for the changes and does not expect sea transport of fuel around the world to be effected or for the move cause price increases.

While the ban will undoubtedly cut the risks to Suffolk's shores, 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.

Tank flushing was believed to be the cause of last winter's slick which left fist-sized lumps of oil from Walberswick to Felixstowe, though it was never proved.

Vice president of the European Commission in charge of transport and energy, Loyola de Palacio described the ban and phase-out as "spectacular steps".

"The agreement, only seven months after the Prestige disaster, is a very strong signal for increased maritime safety. Europe was able to react," she said.

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

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