Tankers off the UK coast holding oil until prices rise are 'an accident waiting to happen'

‘Oil shark’ tankers anchored off World Heritage coastline are an environmental ‘accident waiting to happen’, conservationists warned today.

The 10 ships, moored by Dorset and Devon as they wait for oil prices to rise, are at greater risk of spilling their one million-tonne cargo as the UK is lashed by storms.

The vessels are thought to be earning oil speculators £1million per day as wait alongside the Jurassic coast at Lyme Bay, a proposed Special Area of Conservation.

Sharks at Lyme Bay

Sharks at Lyme Bay: Tankers risk spilling oil along the World Heritage coastline

Simon Cripps, Dorset Wildlife Trust’s chief executive, said: ‘This is an accident waiting to happen.

‘Even a minor spill or accident would devastate one of the world’s most valuable and sensitive coasts, killing animals and plants and ruining livelihoods for years.

‘This is not a Nimby (Not In My Back Yard) approach, this is common sense risk management.

‘You wouldn’t allow a one million-tonne oil tank on the banks of a river.’

Mr Cripps also said the risk of disaster was heightened by recent storms and gale force winds.

He added: ‘The shipping companies should take this Sword of Damocles away from our coast and place these tankers more responsibly in safe harbours.’

The Daily Mail revealed last week that more than 50 oil tankers are anchored around the British Isles – with 30 ships alone moored around ten miles from Southwold, Suffolk.

Many vessels – from as far afield as Malaysia - are so-called ‘sharks’ that have been cynically told to wait for crude prices to be driven up before they unload their cargo.

The price of a barrel of oil has increased from $40 a barrel a year ago to $80, with the cost expected to soar even higher in the next few months.

Durdle Door

Durdle Door: One of many remarkable features on Dorset's Jurassic coast

Even from the start of the tankers' stay in Lyme Bay, the value of the oil they carry has risen from £313million to £378million - an increase of £65million, or more than £1million a day.

It means a 21 per cent profit for doing nothing more than simply watching and waiting.

Record amounts of fuel are now being stored in such a manner around the world - indirectly helping to push up petrol prices on the forecourt.

And with such tactics, it is not hard to see why prices at the pumps are forecast to have risen by 26 per cent in a year by this Christmas.

But one cost the oil speculators are not counting on is the environmental risk to Lyme Bay.

The area is considered so important it has additional laws to protect reefs in parts of the bay from bottom trawling by fishermen.

It is home to around 300 recorded species of plants and animals, including dense populations of the nationally-protected pink seafan and the extremely rare sunset coral.

Lyme Bay is also an important sea angling area and commercial inshore fishery and is important for tourism.

Nearby is Poole Harbour and an important breeding site for seahorses at Studland Bay.

The Trust said the vessels’ safety standards were ‘unclear’, whether they are single or double hulled or how securely they are anchored while they play the waiting game with oil prices.

It said that after the oil tanker Prestige broke up on the north Spanish coast in 2002, it took years for the coast and the communities to recover and to rebuild a reputation for healthy seafood and an unpolluted tourist resort.

Mr Cripps added: ‘A million pounds profit per day buys you a lot of responsible corporate behaviour.

‘We would like to see regulations to prevent them from threatening such important areas in the future.’