John Finnie has criticised the SNP Government’s apparent support for the proposal to carry out risky ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth, which contrasts with their vocal opposition to similar plans in the Firth of Forth nine years ago.
In his first speech as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, Richard Lochhead said:
“Many members of the public and members across the Parliament consider that even a scintilla of environmental risk is unacceptable…
“I believe that the Parliament – and, indeed, Scotland – desires to be able to prevent ship-to-ship oil transfers and proposals that could pose a threat to our precious marine and coastal environments in the Firth of Forth or elsewhere. That is what I intend to achieve.”
Yet, as the consultation about the proposed plans by Cromarty Firth Port Authority to transfer oil between ships at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth draws to a close, the response from Richard Lochhead and the SNP government has been bewildering.
Unlike with the Firth of Forth plan, Mr Lochhead has refused to comment on the Cromarty application, leaving it to an anonymous Scottish Government spokesperson to say that “ship-to-ship transfer of oil an internationally recognised practice that is important to the shipping industry.” Meanwhile, the leader of the SNP Group on Moray Council, Cllr Maxine Smith, said that the application had the support of the SNP Government and that she had “no concerns” about it.
“For the Government to have made such a drastic U-turn on this matter is of deep concern for all those with an interest in protecting the marine and wildlife of the Moray Firth. Now, in contrast to his vocal opposition to ship to ship transfer in the Forth, Richard Lochhead’s silence is deafening.
“There is clear and serious concern from local communities around the Moray Firth who have mobilised in opposition to the plan, about the environmental risks associated with this proposal.
“With oil being pumped at the rate of two tonnes per second, and it taking a maximum of forty seconds to shut down any spillage once it has been noticed; the extent of any leakage would be disastrous.
“The number of risks that the Cromarty Firth Port Authority have simply opted not to take into account in their application is extensive; heightened emissions from the large tankers, the risk of collision between ships, the impact of such a plan on tourism and the local economy; the list goes on.
“It really wasn’t that long ago that Richard Lochhead said that “even a scintilla of environmental risk is unacceptable” and I wholeheartedly agree. So why is his government – who claim to offer the highest standard of marine protection – now supporting this perilous proposal?
“This operation is unsafe, unnecessary and undesirable. In my view, and the view of the affected communities, it simply must not go ahead.”