Controversial oil pumping to be allowed in Firth of Forth

Plans to allow oil to be pumped from one ship to another in the Firth of Forth are one step closer to being implemented, despite concerns about the impact on the harbour's ecosystem if there is an oil spill.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has said that it plans to give its seal of approval to an oil spill contingency plan put forward by the harbour authority, as long as a number of changes are made.

Forth Ports submitted the plan in response to an application to carry out the ship-to-ship transfers by Melbourne Marine Services, an offshore consultancy. Forth Ports now has just less than three weeks to respond to the MCA’s proposals.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland has condemned the MCA’s decision to allow the plan to go ahead, arguing that any pumping of oil in the firth poses an unacceptable risk of spills.

“These plans are only a best guess on how to clean up spills and minimize potential impacts to wildlife sites.

“They do nothing to address the fact that ship-to-ship transfers are risky, and the occurrence of spill can never be entirely eliminated,” said the campaign group’s head of policy and research Stuart Hay.

“At no stage in the process has it been considered whether it is sensible or necessary to pump heavy crude oil in such a sensitive area famed for its wildlife.

The views of local politicians, government conservation agencies and the Fife tourist trade apparently count for nothing due to this deeply flawed approval procedure.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland also accused the government of failing to consult properly on the proposal.

Mr Hay alleged that the firth “is now at greater risk of an oil spill thanks to minimal regulations, a rigged consultation and the greed of the harbour authority”.

He said: “That a plan like this can get the go-ahead, and no public body has the powers to stop it is staggering, and a damning indictment of the UK’s marine conservation policies.”

The MCA refused to comment directly on the controversy, but said in a statement: “The role of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is limited to approving harbour authorities contingency plans to ensure that they address the potential risks of activities carried out in those areas, including ship-to-ship transfers.

There is no provision for the MCA to reject an oil spill contingency plan submitted to it.”

Gretchen Hendriks

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