TOURISM IN MORAY could be devastated if plans to establish ship to ship oil transfers on the Moray Firth are allowed to go ahead – and yet one major tourism group claimed not to be aware of the situation.
It has emerged from exchanges between campaigners and the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) that the Alliance was not aware plans to establish the oil transfers in open water by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA).
The CFPA licence application is currently being considered by the Marine and Coastguard Agency as campaigners throughout the Highlands and Moray continue to lobby various organisations for views and assistance in blocking the application.
Several Moray groups have expressed their concerns over the plans, noting that any resulting oil spill would not only have a devastating effect on the local whale and dolphin population but also beaches from Findhorn to Lossiemouth.
While the CFPA admit that they are aware of the risks and their responsibilities to protect against them, Gwyn Tanner, a former fisherman who now operates boat tours on the Moray Firth, said that a cursory search of the internet revealed a major spill from ship to ship transfers earlier this month at Port Kavkaz in Russia.
Now it has also been revealed that the STA were never even made aware of the plans and offered no view on them, prompting one of the campaign leaders, Highland councillor Craig Fraser, to express “astonishment” that a leading Tourism organisation should not wish to make any comment.
An STA spokeswoman said: “We have received correspondence over the past week on the Cromarty Firth oil transfer licence application, however this is not an issue that the STA can comment on at the moment.”
In his reply to the STA Mr Fraser said: “I am astonished that your organisation was not aware of the application, considering your sponsors as you can appreciate this application is causing a great many worries locally.
“The CFPA are not consulting with all stakeholders. If this application is allowed to proceed and there happened to be an oil pollution incident it will have a devastating effect on the Cromarty and Moray Firth communities and businesses that reply on eco-tourism.”
Mr Tanner added: “I think the Scottish Tourism Alliance must comment on this and support the tourist industry in putting a stop to this underhand application – or close its doors and find another line of work.”
Mr Fraser meanwhile highlight the main failures by the CFPA in their application:
• CFPA did not hold a pre public engagement meeting before submitting this application.
• Highland Council commented negatively as an official consultee saying “evidence of local community consultation measures is lacking”
• CFPA refused to attend a public meeting held in cromarty on the 27th January 2016.
• CFPA have refused to acknowledge 100% of the Cromarty community that attended the public meeting voted against this application.
• CFPA chairman of the board refused to meet the chair of Cromarty & District community council.
• CFPA spokeswoman has refused to accept any questions on ship to ship if she attends community council meetings.