Two years on Moray Firth oil transfer campaigners take fight to Europe

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CAMPAIGNERS FIGHTING TO keep ship-to-ship oil transfers out of the Moray Firth say that they are reading to launch a complaint with the European Commission.

The group Cromarty Rising, which draws its membership from communities throughout the Highlands and Moray that would be affected by the plans lodged by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, says that they expect the CFPA to submit a new application in the Spring of next year.

The CFPA was ordered to submit new proposals after it was judged that they had not correctly consulted with all affected communities in their original application, lodged exactly two years ago.

Cromarty Rising have said they remain despondent over the lack of answers to a series of questions they have put to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over the issue – in particular why the Scottish Government refuses to mention its responsibility for European Protected Species licensing.

They insist that the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation has been designated for the protection of 195 Bottlenose dolphins, the most northerly in Europe, and an iconic component of tourism – and as such vital to the regional economy.

Cromarty Rising also point out that the Moray Firth is home not only to the dolphins, but also to three other species – minke whale, harbour porpoise and otter – that are also strictly protected under the EU Habitats Directive – known as ‘European Protected Species’.

Under that it is an offence to kill, injure or disturb European Protected Species in Scotland’s coastal waters without a licence from the Scottish Ministers through Marine Scotland.

However, campaigners say that Marine Scotland has said nothing about its responsibility for this separate licensing system – indeed it failed altogether to participate in the consultation process about the original application, which was withdrawn earlier this year.

A Cromarty Rising spokesperson said: “This is an absurd situation – the protection of protected species is falling between Government agencies. Here we are two years down the line with no answers and nobody taking responsibility.

“The primary objective of European and UK Habitats Regulations is to protect identified species and the habitats which support them, importantly offering protection to the species in rearing their young. It is a criminal offence to cause harm.

“We are looking to the European Commission to call upon the Scottish Government to accept its responsibilities and be accountable for the protection of European Protected Species in this situation.”

Ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth are highly contested. More than 103,000 people have signed a 38 Degrees Scotland petition against the CFPA proposal. Every major wildlife NGO in Scotland has objected. 27 local community councils object or have expressed concern.

Last week Cromarty Rising and Nairnshire Rising, together with Marine Connection of Cawdor, held discussions with representatives from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which has already issued a statement expressing concern.