Extra surveillance for oil dumpers

OIL dumpers, beware – you will be watched 24 hours a day from now on.That was the message today to rogue ship's captains sailing off the Suffolk coast as plans were unveiled to increase the monitoring of vessels' activities and use night-time surveillance flying to catch polluters.

By Richard Cornwell

OIL dumpers, beware – you will be watched 24 hours a day from now on.

That was the message today to rogue ship's captains sailing off the Suffolk coast as plans were unveiled to increase the monitoring of vessels' activities and use night-time surveillance flying to catch polluters.

Satellite systems and new message-sending bugs will be used to track suspicious ships, and oil fingerprinting will be used to match slicks to their sources.


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The action is part of a new clampdown on polluters spilling oil and chemicals into UK waters along with legal moves to ensure those responsible pay for the damage they have caused.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been told to toughen up its approach to pollution by a group of influential MPs.

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They have outlined a five-point plan which the MCA must put in place at once to get to grips with a problem which is arousing increasing public concern.

There has been a great response to the Evening Star's Stop The Black Death campaign with many people coming forward to support our stance and sign the petition calling for national and international action to stop oil pollution.

In a report, the committee of public accounts said too many polluters were escaping and the MCA must improve its capacity to pursue polluters.

While there has been no major oil spill in UK waters since 1996, three of the worst 20 incidents in the world have taken place off the country's coasts and the risk of more is always there.

Moreover, there have are numerous small spills every year which kill wildlife, and ruin beaches and habitat – and conservationists say the illegal flushing out of bilge tanks is virtually an everyday occurrence.

Last month 300 birds died and more than 600 were left contaminated after an oil slick washed ashore on the Suffolk coast. This week more oiled birds have been found after coming into contact with oil at sea.

The MPs' report urges the MCA to make more use of new technology to detect pollution and identify and trace offenders – with night-time surveillance flying, satellite tracking from space, better oil spill sampling and analysis, and monitoring transponder signals from ships to follow their movements.

Single hull tankers will be the main target, but increased flying will enable other vessels' activities to be examined far more closely than before.

The Department of Transport will work with the agency to ensure prosecutions of polluters can be carried out in all UK waters – at present major port estuaries are excluded – and ensure there are plans in place to deal with a possible terrorist attack on an oil tanker.

They will also work together to seal legal loopholes which enable ship's owners to escape paying for the pollution damage.

These include "one ship companies" where the vessel at fault is the firm's only asset, and "pay to be paid" insurance policies which make it difficult to sue the owners for clean-up costs.

WEBLINK: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmpubacc.htm

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