Oil tankers to steer clear of sensitive coastal areas

OIL TANKERS are to avoid several sensitive areas around the UK coast under a voluntary agreement reached yesterday, the Shipping Minister Lord Caithness told the House of Lords.

The agreement, reached at a meeting between transport officials, representatives of oil companies and tanker operators, follows the Braer pollution disaster in Shetland.

Lord Caithness told the Lords the meeting had concluded that interim measures of a 'voluntary nature' would be circulated by the industry next month in the form of a code.

Under the scheme tankers will avoid environmentally sensitive areas including the Fair Isle Strait, the Isles of Scilly, The Minches (between Scotland's west coast and the Outer Hebrides) and Pentland Firth.

Lord Clinton-Davis, Labour's transport spokesman in the Lords, congratulated the Government over the code, but asked ministers to consider longer-term measures.

Greenpeace welcomed the agreement, 'provided it is the first step towards an enforceable tanker exclusion zone, without which Britain's coastline faces a black future'. It added: 'The oil industry can be sure that Greenpeace will be rigorously monitoring this voluntary ban until it becomes permanent.'

In May, the Government will ask the International Maritime Organisation's Maritime Safety Committee to endorse the agreement.

Yesterday's meeting also agreed more attention should be paid to voyage planning and urged that tanker masters give coastal authorities plenty of warning when they experienced problems affecting the navigation of their vessels.

Those present agreed that existing safety guidelines would be re-emphasised immediately.