Legal storm brewing if port chiefs back oil transfer plan
FORTH Ports risks breaking European law if it gives the go-ahead for ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Forth, say conservationists.
The privatised harbour authority was yesterday given the green light to allow the transfers when the Maritime and Coastguard Agency announced its intention to approve the company's oil spill contingency plan.
It is now up to Forth Ports to decide on the proposal by Sunderland-based Melbourne Marine Services to transfer up to eight million tonnes of Russian crude oil every year.
The plan would involve tankers from the Baltic and Barents seas anchoring four miles off the Fife coast, to pump oil into tankers bound for the US and Far East.
But the Royal Society for Protection of Birds said Forth Ports still had to comply with the European Union's habitats directive, which meant ship-to-ship transfers could only go ahead if they would have no impact on wildlife sites in the area.
Richard Evans, RSPB Scotland's site policy officer, said not enough was known about birdlife in the Forth for harbour chiefs to prove the scheme would have no impact.
He said: "We remain extremely concerned about the disastrous potential of this activity and its impact on the internationally important bird life.
We and other concerned parties, including MSPs and local authorities around the Firth of Forth, will be watching the activity of Forth Ports with great diligence."
Scottish Greens' environment spokesman, Mark Ruskell, said Forth Ports was involved in an incredible conflict of interest.
He said: "Forth Ports plc is both a greedy corporation set to benefit financially from the oil transfers and a statutory environmental regulator supposed to be protecting the Forth.
If it fails in its duty to uphold the law and reject the application for oil transfers, then it will face a huge court battle."
Fife Council is to approach Edinburgh and East Lothian councils to discuss a possible joint legal bid to block the transfers.
Fife Council leader Anne McGovern said an oil spill would have a catastrophic effect on the environment. She said:
"We'll look at all the legal options to oppose these outrageous plans."
An Executive spokeswoman said the MCA decision did not discharge Forth Ports from habitats directive duties. She added: "We will ensure these responsibilities are met in full."
A spokesman for Forth Ports said: "We are awaiting the findings from an independent panel that we commissioned to carry out a risk assessment of the proposed operations, allowing us to undertake an assessment as required by the habitats directive. Once we have these findings, we will communicate them to key stakeholders and take their comments prior to making a decision."
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