MSP’s clash over ‘too little, too late’ ship-to-ship transfer comments

John Finnie - praise for campaigners who have fought to protect the Moray Firth
John Finnie – hit out at Richard Lochhead’s belated comments on ship-to-ship transfer plans

RICHARD LOCHHEAD HAS broken his silence over the issue of ship-to-ship oil transfers – hours after the deadline for consultations on the Moray Firth move were closed.

The Moray MSP and Environment Secretary remained tight-lipped throughout the campaign in his Moray constituency against the plans by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA), despite being called on to support over 6000 people in Moray and the Highlands who signed a petition.

While the consultation deadline closed on Monday, it was not until Tuesday that Mr Lochhead made a call for the Secretary of State for Transport to allow the devolution of powers to ensure that in future such decisions are taken by the Scottish Government.

The Moray MSP said: “Scotland’s seas are a precious and valuable resource and we are committed to protecting them. But our ability to do this is undermined by decisions being taken elsewhere.

“We have a legal obligation to protect Scotland’s environment and yet we have no say in whether ship to ship transfer of oil can take place in our waters. That is why I am again calling for the UK Government to give Scotland these powers without delay, given there is an application for the Cromarty Firth being considered.

“If, once again, the UK Government refuse to devolve these powers, they simply must consult the Scottish Government before a decision about the Cromarty Firth application, and any application affecting Scottish waters, is taken. In the meantime we are paying very close attention to the views of SNH and SEPA, which we will consider carefully.

“We need urgent action to ensure that Scotland’s seas and coastal communities are properly protected.”

While the intervention of Mr Lochhead will be welcomed by those seeking refusal of the license application by the CFPA to allow ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth, one of the leading campaigners against the move, Independent Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie, hit out at the Environment Secretary for acting “too little, too late”.

Mr Finnie said: “The reaction of the SNP Government to these proposals has been hugely disappointing.

“Back in 2008 they were staunchly against this risky method, but this time around we’ve had several conflicting messages. Credit where credit is due, several SNP Highland Councillors have expressed their opposition to ship to ship oil transfers across the Cromarty Firth – but we’ve also had the leader of Highland Council claim that the SNP Government support the proposal and the Government simply released a bland and non-committal statement. It is a disgrace.

“A Cabinet Minister of an SNP government calling for powers to be devolved is not news, it’s a smoke screen.

“I agree with Mr Lochhead, of course – this is a decision that should be in the hands of the Scottish Government, but what we need from him is not another tactical delay but a simple yes or no – does he support ship to ship transfers across the Cromarty Firth or not?

“These proposals have attracted huge, international public interest, with thousands of people expressing significant opposition to the plans of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority.

“There is real public concern around this matter, and the public deserve to know what the Cabinet Minister for Rural Affairs and Environment and indeed the MSP for Moray makes of these plans, and I urge him to make his views known.”