CONCERN IS INCREASING in Moray over plans for a Highland harbour authority to extend ship to ship oil transfers into the Moray Firth.
The move by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority was posted with very little publicity in December – however, following a report on the plans by insideMoray communities along the Moray Firth have rallied to launch a petition against the plan.
While the port authority insist that ship to ship oil transfers have an excellent safety record, communities are becoming aware of the dangers extending the methods would bring to such as the resident dolphin population. As highlighted by insideMoray in December, a similar plan to allow ship to ship transfers on the Firth of Forth eight years ago failed after campaigners pointed out the devastating effect it could have on Moray Firth dolphins that often transited the area.
A Whale and Dolphin Conservation group (WDC) Senior Research Fellow, Erich Hoyt, said at that time: “Ship to ship oil transfers present a serious and completely unacceptable level of risk to the areas wildlife and marine environment. I hope that this marks the beginning of a long line of decisions to protect our wonderful natural heritage.”
Now hundreds of people have become aware of the move on the Moray Firth, signing a petition against the plans that would see 180,000 tonnes of oil transfers between ships on an area of the Firth where a spill could devastate the coastline with Findhorn, Burghead Bay and Lossiemouth identified as areas that would likely suffer greatest from an incident.
The local councillor on the Black Isle who highlighted the issue and secured an extension for public responses to the plans, Councillor Craig Fraser, said: “It is a huge issue – particularly the way it has been handled from the start.
“Had the community been told by the port authority about what it was proposing, where they were proposing it, how it was going to work, and everybody engaged with communities in the Cromarty Firth and Moray Firth, then we might not be here.
“But it is my opinion the process has not been transparent, and we are holding a public meeting on January 27 with an invitation sent to the port authority – but I understand that has been declined.”
All Community Councils in Moray have now received details outlining the danger coastal communities would be under should the plan be allowed to proceed.
In a letter passed to community councils, campaigner Jackie Ross said: “As a resident of Cromarty I am seriously concerned about this application. The consultation period, over the Christmas holidays, is only 42 days and we have to act promptly.
“The Cromarty and Moray Firths are extremely special. They are made up of SSSI areas, Special areas of conservation, Special protected areas, Ramsar sites, Nature conservation marine protected areas and draft SPA’s – not to mention the population of bottlenose dolphins and many bird colonies.
“It really is astounding that such an area would even be considered as suitable for the ship to ship transfer of eight million tonnes of oil per annum.
“Throughout the report/application, the Cromarty Firth Port Authority state that the likelihood of an oil spill is minimal – but if it did occur the outcome would mean birds, marine mammals, coastline, wetlands etc would be “significantly impacted”.
“There is no indication, numerically, about what ‘minimal’ actually means – 1%? Any possibility of an oil spill in this area is surely too big a risk to take. There are also issues with the possible introduction of non-native species which can upset the ecosystem and pollution in the form of noise and fumes.
“I firmly believe that this application should not be passed. The possible impact on the area could be devastating both environmentally and economically.”
This week the chief executive of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, Bob Buskie, denied any suggestion that they had attempted to play down the proposal. He said: “This application is an addition to the current licence and is open to full consultation.
“We have extended the consultation period to give people the chance to respond and this now closes on February 8. This type of ‘ship to ship’ operation has been carried out in the port for many years without incident, we would be happy to discuss concerns with interested parties and look forward to addressing these concerns.”
Full details of the application and consultation process can be found online – including projections on the impact an oil spill could have on the Moray coastline.