Oil Tankers in Lyme Bay

The Lyme Bay rocky reefs have been the focus of scientific study since 1993 and have subsequently received protection through nature conservation designations. Nearby Berry Head in Lyme Bay presents the safest known sheltered anchorage from adverse weather conditions for south coast shipping including passing oil tankers to and from the Baltic. These oil tankers can sometimes be Ultra Large Crude Containers up to 550,000 gross registered tonnes and may anchor for long durations, even throughout calm weather.

Public concern

Public concerns have been frequently raised over the years upon the safety of these vessels and the threat of a potential oil spill in area highly prized for its natural environment. Ship to ship oil transfer continued on location since the 1960s and it was only through environmental lobbying that this potentially hazardous operation was stopped in 1993 by a voluntary agreement.

2010 sees ship-to-ship oil transfers cease

In 2010, the use of Lyme Bay as a designated location for ship to ship transfer operations ceased. The implementation of the Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Operations) Regulations 2010 set out to control or ban all operations unless within the safe confines of Harbour Authorities. Within these areas, controls upon vessel types involved in ship to ship oil transfer and oil transfer licences was imposed.

Damage to seabed

Historically, there have been many national high profile oil disasters and the environmental impact has been extensive. Research from the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) suggests that long term damage to seabed communities and habitats arising from oil spills, most notably the Prestige disaster in 2002, may be unknown.

Single hulled tankers to be phased out

Many oil disasters have resulted from damage to single hulled tankers and despite this, many continue to sail our seas. In 2002, the International Convention on Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), created a phase-out schedule to upgrade or replace these vessels with double hulled tankers. Numerous revisions have been made to the legislation since this time and the most recent declaring a phase-out of all single hulled tankers by 2010. However, there are exceptions. To prevent disruption some tankers have been granted a grace period until the end of 2015 depending on tanker conditions and age.

What we think and what we are doing

  • Whilst it is not appropriate to have large amounts of oil stored in Lyme Bay, Dorset Wildlife Trust acknowledges the area as the only suitable and safe anchorage along the south coast.
  • Dorset Wildlife Trust will continue to ensure that adequate contingency plans are in place to mitigate impact of environmental disaster.
  • Dorset Wildlife Trust will continue to monitor the issue, make ourselves heard if the threat increases and invoke public and political support.

See for yourself

Information on vessels weighing over 300 gross registered tonnes is gathered through Automatic Identity System. This statutory data includes identity, destination, cargo and position, some of which is publically available.

Live images of tanker movement in Lyme Bay can be viewed below from www.shipais.com

Hover over the vessels with your mouse to find out more information and press F5 to refresh the page and see updated positions.

Napoli disaster Jan 2007 Lyme Bay by Julian Wardlaw

The Napoli disaster, January 2007, Lyme Bay by Julian Wardlaw

Lyme Bay coral reefs by Mike Markey

The highly prized Lyme Bay coral reefs displaying pink seafans, dead man’s fingers, ross coral and branching sponges by Mike Markey

Lyme Bay oil tanker movements ShipAIS

Berry Head, Lyme Bay oil tanker movements (shown in red) from May 2010 © ShipAIS

Key to vessel colours below


Green Cargo Red Tanker
Blue Passenger White High Speed Craft
Yellow Unspecified/ other Black Tug

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