OPPOSITION TO PLANS for ship to ship oil transfers on the Moray Firth picked up pace yesterday when an MSP launched his own petition against the Cromarty Firth Port Authority proposals.
Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie entered the debate that has been picking up pace since insideMoray revealed plans in December that environmentalists say has the potential to wreak devastation all along the Moray coastline.
Mr Finnie has appealed to communities living along the length of the waterway or those who have an interest in protecting the environment to sign his petition against the proposal, which he says could place the iconic bottlenose dolphins, Minke whales and porpoises at risk.
Current arrangements see oil transferred on and off of vessels securely berthed at Nigg, but the Cromarty Firth Port Authority has lodged an application for a license to carry out ship-to-ship oil transfers at five locations in the open sea outside the mouth of the Cromarty Firth.
Under pressure from local campaigners, the Port Authority has extended the deadline for public responses until February 8.
The Scottish Greens have a strong track record in protecting coastal communities from ship-to-ship plans, with a three-year campaign by Green MSPs to halt similar plans in the Firth of Forth ending in victory when Forth Ports PLC dropped a similar proposal in 2008.
Mr Finnie said: “The proposal for ship-to-ship oil transfers puts the priceless environment of the Moray Firth – including our iconic bottlenose dolphins – at risk.
“The plan means that instead of loading and offloading oil in the safety of Nigg harbour, oil would be pumped between ships at the mercy of the waves out in the Firth. It’s little wonder that this risky procedure is seen as a real threat by campaigners like Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
“The Moray Firth is one of Scotland’s most important marine habitats. As well as dolphins, porpoises and whales, it is an important area for seabirds, wading birds, seals and otters. It’s an important fishery and a centre for the production of shellfish.
“It’s an excellent location for windsurfing, kayaking and other water sports. All that is in danger if we allow oil transfers to go ahead.
“Greens have beaten ship-to-ship plans once before, in the Firth of Forth. With your help we can do it again: please sign the petition at http://bit.ly/SaveOurDolphins.”
Isla O’Reilly, Green Highlands and Islands list candidate, added: “A spillage in this area could cause serious problems for the coastal communities and environments from Ross-shire to Moray, while the discharging of ballast water could introduce further pollution as well as non-native species.”
Supporters of the plan insist that instances of spillage from ship to ship transfers are extremely rare, and point out that the proposals would allow larger tankers to transfer their load on an area of the Moray Firth that is still within the area defined as part of the Cromarty Firth Port.