Dolphins may stop ship to ship oil transfers

Dolphins, which have been observed playing in the waters off St Andrews Bay, could hold the key to whether ship to ship oil transfers can be diverted away from the Firth of Forth.

Warnings that the waters off the Fife coast were at risk of a potentially devastating oil spill followed fast in the wake of last Friday's announcement that Forth Ports has been granted permission to transfer millions of tonnes of crude oil from ship to ship in the Firth of Forth.

The announcement by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) follows the revelation that an investigation had been launched by the European Union to assess whether the proposals breach environmental regulations.Under the newly-approved plans, Sunderland-based Melbourne Marine Services is set to pump about 7.8 million tonnes of Russian crude every year between tankers lying four miles off the Fife coast.

The Greens are backing Fife and East Lothian councils which are looking into legal ways to stop the transfers. Greens say that the oil project will place the local economy and the environment in serious jeopardy.

Forth Ports are in the process of assessing the impacts of the transfers on protected species such as dolphins, and will have to apply to the Scottish Executive for a licence, if there could be a negative impact on such species. The Greens argue this gives ministers an opportunity to stop the transfers going ahead.

All the local authorities, communities and environmental agencies, including the Executive's advisers Scottish Natural Heritage, opposed the proposal for the transfers and rejected the Forth Oil Spill Contingency Plan on the grounds that the plan would adversely affect the integrity of the relevant nature conservation sites.

Consultees (even major stakeholders such as the local authorities) have not been able to access new data and reports prepared by Forth Ports, who have claimed that they are not covered by Freedom of Information or Environmental Regulations legislation, and are not obliged to provide data. However, the Greens have appealed this to the St Andrews-based FoI Commissioner, Kevin Dunion.

Dolphins may hold key to diverting ship oil transfers (Fife Today, 11 September 2006)