Green fury as oil transfers are ruled out of Marine Bill
THE controversial practice of transferring tonnes of crude oil between tankers will not be covered by a UK Marine Bill, it emerged yesterday, sparking fury among environmentalists.
It was expected that the bill would regulate industry in the sea and ensure that potentially hazardous activities were carried out in the most appropriate place.
This issue has been highlighted by the lack of regulations covering a proposal to transfer Russian crude in the Firth of Forth, where any spill could harm important seabird colonies, whales, dolphins and other wildlife.
Environmental groups yesterday said ship-to-ship transfer should be "one of the first things" covered by a Marine Bill, and its absence exposed the UK Parliament's white paper, published in March, on the subject as a "public-relations exercise".
There is mounting concern about delays in introducing new marine legislation and that any subsequent bill will fail adequately to protect the environment, amounting to little more than a "manifesto for further exploitation of the sea".
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) told The Scotsman: "It is not for the Marine Bill to make changes to controls over ship-to-ship transfers, and it will not.
"Regulation of those activities would be the subject of legislation relating to merchant shipping, the responsibility of the Department for Transport. They are currently regulated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
"The Marine Bill will not address merchant shipping or the activities of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency."
The white paper also appears to rule out the entire oil and gas sector, suggesting the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR, formerly the Department for Trade and Industry, or DTI), will be in charge, but it is written in vague terms.
It says: "The oil and gas sector will, of course, feature in and take account of marine plans when making licensing and consenting decisions. But in the absence of any compelling evidence that the current system is failing, on balance we believe that the resources we have available are best directed at introducing other reforms that will bring greater benefits."
Dr Richard Dixon, of WWF, a member of the Scottish Government marine advisory group, AGMACS, that published its landmark report this year, said it made no sense to exclude marine activities from a Marine Bill. He said the "logical position" was that ship-to-ship transfers should be covered by a Marine Bill, but this was "part of the ongoing battle DEFRA has been having with the DTI" (now BERR) for years.
"Particularly with oil and gas licensing offshore, they don't want to give it up," he said. "The reason we are in a mess is two Whitehall departments are still squabbling. If you ask any person in the street to have a think about what should be included, they would come to the conclusion the whole point of the system is to include everything so you can weigh things up.
"The fact we are excluding anything at all is really very silly. In principle terms, it is completely daft to continue to have parallel systems."
A spokesman for the Scottish Green Party said: "It exposes the public-relations exercise they are engaged in with the marine white paper.
"It suggests a Marine Bill that's simply there to make it appear the government is going to do something about the complete mess of the laws governing the seas.
"Ship-to-ship should be one of the first things in there. This is the whole point of it: to draw together all the disparate laws governing the seas to co-ordinate them and ensure there is a sensible management plan."
Calum Duncan, of the Marine Conservation Society, said that, while both the UK and Scottish governments had promised to introduce Marine Bills, the devil would be in the detail.
"UK Marine Bills will have failed if they only provide a manifesto for further exploitation of the sea without the checks in place to safeguard the marine eco-system on which this depends," he said.
Joining battle for the seas
THE Scotsman is campaigning for a "devolution of the seas" to give the Scottish Government control of conservation matters out to the boundary with international waters.
At present Scotland is in charge of conservation to 12 nautical miles, with the UK in charge from 12 to 200 miles.
It appears the UK and Scottish governments will introduce separate marine bills, creating two marine management organisations (MMOs) for each area. However, Scotland has some responsibilities out to 200 miles, such as fishing, while Westminster is in control of reserved matters, including oil, within the 12-mile zone.
Westminster may be reluctant to hand over so much power over issues like oil and gas, but the UK MMO could potentially act as a court of appeal on reserved matters.
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