MORE than 500 protesters lined a north beach yesterday united against planned ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth.
Residents from both sides of the firth gathered at Nairn central beach alongside politicians, councillors and conservation groups as part of a campaign to prevent the granting of a licence for the transfers by the Port of Cromarty Firth.
Objectors claim the activity would create a serious risk to the local environment and business interests, including tourism, which is hugely dependent on the local dolphin population.
But the Cromarty Firth Port Authority argue they are “legally bound” to protect the “special environment” they work in and that ship-to-ship transfers are a “commercial necessity” for world trade.
Yesterday, Jacquiecorr Ross, chairwoman of Cromarty and District Community Council and member of opposition group Cromarty Rising, spoke to the hundreds who came to protest.
She said: “I cannot believe how many people have turned out. It’s obvious that this matters to you all as much as it does to us.
“We have been researching every aspect of the plans and nothing we have found has been positive. This is the wrong plan in the wrong place. There are three community councils opposed to this and we have to make Highland Council aware of our feelings, as well as the Cromarty Firth Port Authority.”
Last month the Cromarty Rising group stepped up their online campaign in response to questions from the public.
Content “gleaned from expert knowledge, academics and public domain information,” now appears on the group’s site in a section entitled OilLeaks.
Nairnshire councillors spoke with one voice last week, urging Highland Council to declare its “total opposition” to the proposed oil transfers.
Black Isle councillor Craig Fraser, a vocal supporter of the campaign, will press the issue at Thursday’s full council meeting by calling for a special meeting to review the issue of the port’s licence application.
Yesterday Mr Fraser said he was “absolutely delighted” with the turnout, adding: “This application is not acceptable. It’s the wrong plan in the wrong place and we have had no consultation and it’s a shocking dereliction of their duty as a ‘trust’ port.
“Dolphin tourism to the Moray Firth area is valued at about £3million, based on the Moray Firth Partnership’s commissioned report in 2009/10.”
Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie also attended yesterday’s protest.
He said: “This shows the strength of the community itself and the depth of feeling that people have about this issue. There is a growing awareness of this and people understand that what is under threat is not only the precious marine coastal environment, but also what’s at stake is the livelihood of the Highlands and Islands’ most important industry which is tourism.
“I hope that the Highland Council and the Scottish Government appreciates this strength of feeling. This simply can not be allowed to go ahead.”
Steve Truluck, volunteer with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation charity, added: “I would like to see Highland Council actually realise how many people are bothered by this application. It’s been an absolutely fantastic turnout.”
Nairn resident Donald Wilson said: “Easter Ross and Nairn may be only a few miles apart but in terms of economies they are polar opposites. Nairn relies heavily on tourism, whereas Easter Ross relies on heavy industry.
“It’s absolutely shocking that officials to Highland Council appear to have acquiesced and never objected to this without fully informing local members, whether the council was a statutory consultee or not.”
The Cromarty Firth Port Authority last night said they appreciated the environment they work in is “extremely special” and stressed they were “legally bound” to protect it.
The statement added: “We have a 100% safety record for (land-based) operations with no spills in over 30 years. More than 175million barrels of oil have been transferred safely in the firth.
“Ship-to-ship transfers are a commercial necessity for world trade. They take place every day all over the world and are not considered exceptional or high risk by governments, oil companies, ship owners or the United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation.
“As a trust port, we must take the views of all stakeholders into account and act in a way that benefits the majority.
“Of the nine local community councils, three have confirmed they are against the application. Those communities represent 17% of the local population.”
“We remain open and transparent on the application. The licence decision is with the experts.”