THE fight against ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth reached the Scottish Parliament yesterday when Cromarty Rising protesters called for tougher accountability of trust ports.
The campaigners addressed the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee, during which they called for tougher environmental legislation to prevent such oil transfers in ecologically sensitive waters.
And they spoke of their concerns about the proposal by the Port of Cromarty Firth to trans-ship crude oil in the open sea.
Appearing before the committee were Dr Greg Fullarton, a marine biologist who lives in Cromarty, along with former oil industry worker Duncan Bowers and local activist Loreine Thomson.
Dr Fullarton told the committee chairwoman MSP Johann Lamont: "Twenty-seven Highland and Moray community councils are in opposition to it and there are several high level non-government organisations in opposition.
"More than 100,000 people have signed a petition opposing it and calling on the Scottish Parliament to use its powers to promote the view of the people to protect out shores.
"The matter of ship-to-ship transfer is not devolved. We are not here to ask for ship-to-ship transfer to be devolved, we are simply here to seek that parliament uses its powers to protect our environment."
Ms Lamont pointed out that ship-to-shore transfers were allowed at Scapa Flow, Nigg and Sullom Voe and asked: "Are you opposed to ship-to-shore transfers?"
Dr Fullarton replied: "You need the infrastructure to deal with this properly and at Nigg we have absolutely no problems. They have done it for 30 years. They have proper infrastructure there."
But, he said, the Cromarty Firth Port Authority had no intention of using ship to shore facilities.
He said: "If they get ship-to-ship oil transfer permission that will be able to offer the service at a cost which could be something around one third of the rest of the UK. They are going to make it so cheap it will drag the business in.
"They will be within a couple of miles of a very rocky shore. If there are no tugs on hand and something went wrong, what then? In our view it is a disaster waiting to happen."
Highland Green MSP John Finnie asked Dr Fullarton about community engagement with the port authority.
He replied: "The first the communities knew about the ship-to-ship proposal was an advert in the Inverness Courier. The community council was not asked in any way, shape or form. The community council had to contact the port authority.
"The port authority were asked to come along to our meetings but did not. They did come along to a closed meeting which had to be un-minuted – take from that what you want."
Ms Lamont said there were a number of areas the committee would want to explore and promised to contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Marine Scotland, Sepa, SNH, harbour authorities and other agencies before making any decision.