Top au­thor joins protest

First min­is­ter backs ob­jec­tions to scheme made by Ian Rankin

The Press and Journal (Highlands & Islands) - - Front Page - BY AN­DREW LID­DLE

Pro­test­ers led by one of the coun­try’s best- known au­thors have been backed by Ni­cola Stur­geon in their quest to block ship-to-ship oil trans­fers in the Mo­ray Firth, which they be­lieve risk an en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe.

Pro­test­ers led by one of the coun­try’s best-known au­thors have been backed by Ni­cola Stur­geon in their quest to block ship-to-ship oil trans­fers in the Mo­ray Firth.

At least a hun­dred north ac­tivists, in­clud­ing Ian Rankin, gath­ered out­side Holy­rood yes­ter­day to protest the plans, which they be­lieve risk an en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe.

Re­bus cre­ator Mr Rankin and ac­tivists dressed as dol­phins mus­tered out­side the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment to urge the govern­ment to “get off the fence” and block the plans.

First Min­is­ter Ms Stur­geon later told MSPs she was “un­con­vinced” by the Port of Cro­marty Firth’s pro­pos­als, de­spite the au­thor­ity in­sist­ing safe­guards are in place and it takes its en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties “ex­tremely se­ri­ously”.

Cam­paign­ers fear an oil spill in the area, at the mouth of the Cro­marty Firth, would be cat­a­strophic for the en­vi­ron­men­tally-sen­si­tive wa­ters – home to species such as bot­tlenose dol­phins, minke whales and por­poises.

Speak­ing at the rally, Mr Rankin, who owns a house on the Black Isle and vis­its reg­u­larly, said: “The Cro­marty Firth would be a ter­ri­ble place for an ac­ci­dent to hap­pen and it only takes one ac­ci­dent.

“You can be safe 99.9% of the time but one ac­ci­dent is enough to de­stroy ev­ery­thing that’s there.

“It’s such a rich, bio­di­verse area and, of course, tourism is the lifeblood. If one thing went wrong, it would be hellish.”

The de­ci­sion on whether to al­low the ship-to-ship trans­fers is ul­ti­mately one for Mar­itime and Coast­guard Agency (MCA) and the UK Govern­ment.

But Scot­tish Green MSP Mark Ruskell urged the SNP ad­min­is­tra­tion to use its en­vi­ron­men­tal pow­ers to stop the plans.

He said: “While the de­ci­sion to li­cense the ap­pli­ca­tion ul­ti­mately rests with the Mar­itime and Coast­guard Agency, Scot­tish min­is­ters have clear le­gal pow­ers to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­por­tance of the Mo­ray Firth couldn’t be clearer. They need to put their foot down and show whose side they are on.”

Speak­ing at first min­is­ter’s ques­tions, Ms Stur­geon told MSPs: “On the ba­sis of the cur­rent in­for­ma­tion, the Scot­tish Govern­ment is un­con­vinced that ship-to-ship oil trans­fers can or should take place at an­chor in the Cro­marty Firth with­out re­sult­ing in an un­ac­cept­able risk to the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment, in par­tic­u­lar a Euro­pean des­ig­nated area for bot­tlenose dol­phin.”

A spokes­woman for the Port of Cro­marty Firth said not al­low­ing ship-to-ship oil trans­fers could ham­per “am­bi­tious” plans for devel­op­ment – and cost more than £500,000 a year.

She said: “We fully ap­pre­ci­ate the en­vi­ron­ment in which we op­er­ate is ex­tremely spe­cial, and are legally bound to pro­tect it.”

An MCA spokes­woman said the pro­tec­tion of the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment was a “top pri­or­ity”.

“One ac­ci­dent is enough to de­stroy ev­ery­thing that’s there”

EN­VI­RON­MENT FEARS: Cam­paign­ers protest out­side the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment in Ed­in­burgh against plans for ship-to-ship oil trans­fers in the Mo­ray Firth,

Ni­cola Stur­geon

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