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County holds its breath over refinery’s future

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big playerAN ARTICLE published on Sunday by a leading national newspaper has reignited fears amongst workers that a Milford Haven oil refinery may close, putting 400 jobs at risk.

It was reported that mounting losses as well as a shift in focus by parent company Murphy Oil – from refining to exploration – meant that the refinery was now at risk. The American oil giant has tried to sell the refinery, which opened in 1973, but no buyer has been found. This is despite the offer of a multi-million pound dowry.

According to accounts published by Murphy Oil in the USA, the refinery made a loss of $105m (£63m) in the last three months of 2013.

Murphy Oil classified the refinery, which is the smallest site in the UK, as a “discontinued operation” in its accounts, according to The Sunday Times. The Sunday Times has also reported that Murphy Oil said that it expects to complete the “disposition” of the refinery by this year.

Rebecca Evans AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, has spoken to The Herald about her concern about the future of refinery following the report that it may face closure.

Mrs Evans said: “This is deeply concerning. The accounts, filed in America, show Milford Haven representing a loss to the company of $105 million for the last quarter of 2013.

The site has been for sale for three years, but Murco has been unable to find a buyer for the site and had to write-down the company’s value by $73m (£44m) from its value last year.

“Murphy Oil has said that it expects to complete the “disposition” of the refinery at Milford Haven by the end of the year. I am seeking urgent clarity from the company as to what
that means.

“Assurances were given in November that the refinery would not close – and yet three months later the company is talking about “disposition.”

If disposition means a sale, then that could be positive as it would end a protracted period of uncertainty for the 400 strong workforce. However, if disposition means closure, then that would be a devastating and terrible blow to Milford Haven and the surrounding area.

“I know that there are several serious challenges facing the Milford Haven operation, including the downturn in demand for petrol. There is also new competition from giant refineries being built in the Middle East and Asia which can operate at a fraction of the cost of Milford Haven refinery, which is the smallest in Britain.

“I have written to the Minister for the Economy, Science and Transport asking what discussions she and her officials are having with the company, what assistance Government might be able to offer in terms of helping find a buyer for the refinery, and what support can be offered to the workers.

“I also am seeking a meeting with union representatives.”

Plaid Cymru AM for the Mid and West, Simon Thomas said: “Just a couple of months ago the current owners were adamant that closure was not on the cards at Milford Haven but comments by the company’s CEO and the write down of UK assets, namely Murco, appear to suggest a real threat to ongoing operations at Milford Haven.

“Four hundred jobs are at stake so it is vital that the Welsh Government intervenes now. In November we were told that talks between the Welsh Government and the company were not in relation to the plant’s closure which at the time was a great relief. But it is unfair to expect workers to live with such uncertainty hanging over them.

“I expect the Economy Minister to address the Assembly at the earliest possible opportunity to reassure us that the Welsh Government is fighting for those 400 jobs.”

Paul Davies, Assembly Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said, “The Murco oil refinery is an important employer in Pembrokeshire providing hundreds of skilled jobs.

“Further uncertainty over the refinery’s future is most unwelcome and I hope the company will be offered every possible support.

“I hope Welsh Labour Ministers are doing all they can to help secure the future of this refinery and the contribution it makes to the Welsh economy.”

Patricia Haylock, Head of Legal Services for Murco, told the Herald: “The sale of the refinery is an ongoing process.”

When asked by the Herald if the company would be giving assurances to employees and contractors, Mrs Haylock said: “We will be giving assurance that the sales process is continuing.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald asked Mrs Haylock if the mounting losses would make it more difficult for Murphy Oil to find a buyer, Mrs Halylock said “We obviously need to publish our financials, I cannot comment on whether or not this will make the sales process more difficult.”

The Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb, said: “It’s my understanding that nothing has happened in recent days or recent weeks to put a question mark over the Milford Haven Oil refinery. What is going on is a very long sale process which involves several different buyers, I understand, expressing an interest in buying the refinery. Now it’s up to the sellers, the Murphy Oil Corporation, and any interested parties to reach an agreed purchase price”.

It has been reported that Greenergy, who are part owned by Tesco, were bidding for the Murco business. However, yesterday Greenergy spokeswoman Alex Lewis told the Herald:

“We are a major fuel supplier in South Wales and across the UK and in recent years have invested in several former refineries. We are keeping the developing situation at the Milford Haven refinery under review, but currently we do not have plans to purchase this site.”

The sale of the refinery was being handled by Goldman Sachs, but yesterday a company spokeswoman for the firm refused to confirm if they will still involved with the refinery.

A Murco spokesman said: “Murco Petroleum Limited (Murco) can confirm that the sales process by Murphy Oil Corporation of Murco’s UK Downstream business continues and it is actively progressing the sale process.

“The Milford Haven Refinery continues with safe reliable operations in a difficult market environment. The UK retail marketing business continues to perform well and delivered one of its best year end results on record in 2013.”

In spite of the fears, which have been extensively covered by national media, on social media sites workers at and with links to the refinery remain positive that a buyer will soon be found.

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Man arrested at Penally Training Camp for arson and criminal damage

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A 29-YEAR-OLD man has been arrested on suspicion of arson and criminal damage at the Penally Training Camp.

Police and ambulances services attended the camp last night (Sept 30).

Police said that the man remains in police custody.

The Welsh Ambulance Service said: “We were called last night to reports of a patient needing medical attention at Penally Camp. We responded with one emergency ambulance and one person was transported to Withybush Hospital.”

It is unknown at this time is the man arrested was an asylum seeker or a local person.

He is the third person to be arrested in connection with the camp in recent days.

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Police probe into racist Facebook comments over Penally asylum seekers

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A NEIGHBOURING police force have confirmed that they are investigating grossly offensive comments on a Facebook group that suggest that asylum seekers staying at the MOD Training Camp in Penally should be gassed or shot.

Around 234 asylum seekers—Kurdish Iraqis and Kurdish Iranians—are set to be housed at the camp.

Many of the protesters are locals concerned about their communities after a lack of communication of the arrival of the asylum seekers by the home Office, but South Wales police believe that some of the protests outside the camp have been organised by far-right elements based in Swansea.

Two people have been arrested in connection with protests. One person released without charge, and another, – a well-known right leaning You Tube vlogger from outside the local area has been bailed on the condition he says out of the county.

Some of the shocking posts state: “Run the bastards over”… “Put a bullet in their heads if they can’t respect others” or “Tell your family to keep everything locked up, 250 new thieves, rapist and paedophiles are about to arrive in the area.”

Far-right activist Tommy Robinson has added his voice to the Penally Camp protest campaign. The founder of the English Defence League dubbed the prospect of the camp housing up to 250 asylum seekers as ‘sickening’, which has led to more interest in Penally online.
The Pembrokeshire Herald has engaged Facebook moderators after news articles, which now reach one million people online, were spammed with racist comments. 6,000 comments have already been checked, and hundreds deleted this newspaper can confirm.

A police spokesman said: “South Wales Police is looking into a number of inflammatory posts published on social media concerning the accommodation of asylum seekers at Penally in Pembrokeshire. Users of social media are requested to be mindful of the language used when publishing posts.”

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There are no illegal immigrants in Penally, Home Office confirms

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THE HOME OFFICE has been in touch with The Pembrokeshire Herald to clarify some of the queries that locals have regarding the Penally Army Camp, now being used to house asylum seekers.

The Management Team at the asylum seeker holding unit have refused to engage with the local County Councillor, John Preston, but the information now received could go some way to answer some of the questions which have, until now, remained unanswered on social media, and by the local member himself.

Firstly, there has been speculation about the immigration status of those people held in Penally. The government has now confirmed that those being housed in MoD sites are people “currently awaiting asylum decisions”.

This means that all of the people in the camp have applied for asylum officially, and that they are currently in the United Kingdom legally. This is because a refugee, who has presented himself to the UK authorities without delay, showed good cause for his entry or presence and has made a claim for asylum as soon as was reasonably practicable, is afforded protection in law from offences connected with that entry. It is legal for people to enter the country in a manner which would normally be illegal, as long as it was for the purposes of seeking asylum.

The people who are staying at Penally Camp are new to the UK, having arrived in boats or in the back of lorries – but they have already been quarantined and screened for Covid-19.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “In line with guidelines about arrivals into the United Kingdom, asylum seekers will have first spent a 14-day quarantine period in other temporary accommodation before, providing they do not display any symptoms of Covid-19, being moved to the MoD sites [including Penally].”

The Home Office also said that whenever using contingency accommodation, they “ensure that detailed assessment is carried out to ensure asylum seekers have the support services they need. If there are any issues that need to be addressed, we will work with our contractor and other partners to find solutions.

Suggesting that the decision to use Penally Camp was made in a rush the Home Office said: “There are times where contingency accommodation must be procured and mobilised at speed to ensure we meet our legal obligations.”

The spokesman added: “The Home Office is committed to working collaboratively with communities and stakeholders to ensure that destitute asylum seekers are provided with safe, secure and suitable accommodation while their asylum claims are considered. This includes working in partnership with local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups in England and Local Health Boards in Wales, Public Health England and Wales, the Welsh Government and local police forces. We have specifically set up an Asylum Accommodation Strategic Working Group to support collaborative working.

“Our ambition is to house asylum seekers within the asylum estate without the need for contingency accommodation. We are working to address the issues putting pressure on our asylum accommodation. This includes resuming support cessations, to get people moving out of accommodation when their cases are concluded, and also to continue to take steps to address illegal migration and the exploitation and organised criminality that goes with it, including the dangerous Channel crossings we have seen in recent times”.

THREAT OF ARREST

In regards to the protests in Penally, the Home Office spokesperson said: “We will not tolerate any attempts to fuel resentment towards asylum seekers and we will take all the necessary steps to protect people in our care.

“We continually review the security at asylum accommodation sites with providers, who work closely with local police to ensure action is taken if someone tries to access a site.”

The information sent from the Home Office came on the day that more asylum seekers were bussed into the camp, under the escort of unmarked police vehicles (Sept 28).
One solitary protestor was on hand to attempt to block the bus, but under the threat of arrest he was moved out of the way by a police officer.

On Monday evening, some of the asylum seekers from the camp came to the gates to speak to protestors. One of those protestors, James Gould, a member of the Facebook group ‘Penally Against Illegal Migrant Camp’ live streamed an ad-hoc interview with one of the camp residents, which has now been seen by over 20,000 people.

COUNCILLOR WANTS HIS VOICE HEARD

Meanwhile, Cllr Preston is pushing forward with his plan to spread national awareness about what is happening in Penally. He told the press over the weekend: “I spoke with a Home Office official last week and stated that I am deeply uncomfortable with the possibility that our human rights obligations may not be possible to uphold in such a facility”

“It is my understanding that the asylum seekers have been removed from support networks established within the UK who have the infrastructure to provide them with their essential medical, spiritual, emotional, and domestic needs.

“They have then been transported during the night to Penally where they have witnessed mass protests and media attention.

“Due to the highly prominent location of the camp it has now become a point of public curiosity creating an environment of anxiety and fear for those on both sides of the fence.

“I have met with residents and business owners over the weekend, and it is still not clear why such a facility has been established in the heart of one of Europe’s premier holiday destinations.

“I am in contact with the BBC with a view to raising national awareness of the situation at Penally Camp and how it has been implemented by the Home Office as I consider this to be of national importance.

“It will not benefit anyone to have a government enquiry in five years’ time to tell us lessons have been learnt’. The injustice is happening now in real time and this decision must be re-called as a matter of urgency”

In other comments to the press the councillor said: “No consideration has been afforded to the elderly population in the area or to the needs of a large group of vulnerable adults. The autocratic manner in which this decision has been made should be a concern to us all. We will continue to demand that it is reconsidered”

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