Holyrood committee challenged to halt ship to ship transfers

CAMPAIGNERS SEEKING AN end to plans that would establish a ship-to-ship oil transfer facility on open water on the Moray Firth have welcome the opportunity to address a Holyrood committee.

Cromarty Rising representatives appeared before the Public Petition Committee at Holyrood yesterday, urging MSPs to seek answers on the legal validity of oil spill contingency plans that involved the euthanasia of cetaceans that may be stranded during oil spills.

And shortly after the meeting it was announced that they would also get their day in Parliament, as regional Green MSP John Finnie secured a debate in Holyrood next week.

Ahead of the Committee a spokesman for the campaign group said: “The original ship to ship application made by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority in December 2015 has been found to be flawed and rejected by the Regulator.

“As such the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has no role in current consideration of whether a new application should be made or not. The decision to submit a new application is entirely the responsibility of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority and Scottish Government Ministers.”

A petition signed by over 103,000 indicating their opposition to the plans by the CFPA sparked the consideration by the Committee.

However, hoped for support from the Scottish Government has been sparse, although there has been some positive comments from the SNP Government. The spokesman added: “First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on behalf of The Scottish Government stated that they are unconvinced that ship to ship oil transfers at anchorages in the Moray Firth can take place without resulting in an unacceptable risk to the marine environment, in particular a European designated area for Bottlenose Dolphins.

Campaigners have taken their fight to Holyrood.

“Cromarty Rising have requested that the Scottish Government Public Petitions Committee seek answers on the legal validity of Oil Spill Contingency plans which involve the planned euthanasia of cetaceans [whales and dolphins] stranded during oil spills.

“Plans submitted by the port authority in 2011 and again in 2015 identify the possibility of dolphins and whales becoming stranded during oil spills. Data from the International Tanker Owner Pollution Federation shows average oil spill volumes from 2010 to 2015 are between 118 tonnes and 1073 tonnes every year.

“Scottish Natural Heritage has requested that a crude oil spill volume of 180,000 tonnes is considered in scoping documents issued to the port in December last year. Cromarty Rising finds that any operation, where oil spill plans identify the need for the euthanasia of cetaceans is totally unacceptable.”

The group asked the petitions committee to ensure that the planned euthanasia of a European protected species is lawful. The spokesman continued: “There are serious concerns from marine mammal group Marine Connection. In an area such as the Moray Firth an oil spill may result in mass stranding.

“Stranded cetaceans may become compromised due to pressure on their internal organs from being out of the water, lying on the shoreline. Barbiturates are used as lethal injection via an area near to the tail, it is hazardous and can cause considerable distress to members of the public who generally tend to believe rescue is possible.

“The pre-planned euthanasia of a protected species is an area of legal, moral and ethical uncertainty and the Public Petitions Committee have been asked to seek further specialist advice. Cromarty Rising finds these plans to be abhorrent, as will most members of the public, and calls on the Scottish Government to intervene while matters are within their control to ensure that no new ship to ship transfer application is made where these creatures will be at risk.”

Holyrood Debate

Following the meeting John Finnie MSP met with the campaigners.  He said: “I was pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the Public Petitions Committee’s session on Cromarty Rising’s ship to ship petition.

“The petitioners should be commended for the articulate case they made before the committee. The committee have agreed to write to the Scottish Government, and relevant stakeholders and I will be interested in hearing what they have to say on the matter when the issue returns to the committee in due course.

“If ship to ship oil transfers are allowed to go ahead in the Cromarty Firth the consequences for marine life, including the iconic pod of bottlenose dolphins, could be catastrophic.

“The overwhelming majority of communities in the area, who would be in the front line of any oil spill, are opposed to ship to ship oil transfers, as are thousands across the country as the 103,000 signatures on Cromarty Rising’s petition demonstrates.

“The potential impact on the tourism sector, so important to the local economy, cannot be overstated. I am therefore glad that my motion has achieved cross party support, and I look forward to leading a debate on ship to ship oil transfers in the parliament next week.”

Mr Finnie’s parliamentary motion on the issue will be debated in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, March 22.