FORTH OIL TRANSFER FARCE CONTINUES – Forth Ports knew of oil spillage, ministers fudge on law change

It appears that Forth Ports plc (FP) was fully aware of an oil spill disaster by the company proposing ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth, according to the company concerned.

The claim from SPT Marine, contained in a letter to Parliament, directly contradicts a previous statement from FP boss Charles Hammond that his organisation did not know of the incident. (1)

The statement was part of FP’s attempt to duck questions regarding Greens’ revelation that SPT Marine was responsible for spilling around 35,000 gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, an incident the company failed to disclose the information when providing official evidence to Parliament. (2) Forth Ports has the final say on the Forth ship to ship oil transfers plan, despite also standing to make a profit if the operation goes ahead.

Mark Ruskell MSP and Green speaker on environment, said, “This whole controversy is a farce and ministers are at the centre of it. Labour and Libdems continue to drag their heels over changing laws so that they, not private companies, have the final say on oil transfers.

“The more information these companies release, the more questions arise. Both Forth Ports and SPT Marine are being less than honest, they cannot get their facts right never mind be trusted with protecting the Firth’s environment.

“It’s clear that all three parties involved in this ongoing debacle are dodging responsibility. The Executive desperately needs to take control and stop these plans.”

There is delay and confusion over whether or not the law will be changed to take the final decision-making powers away from Forth Ports. Mark Ruskell MSP recently asked Ministers when they would act and they were less than clear about whether they would intervene at all, although reports today indicate that a change in the law is on the cards. (3)


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1. Extract from letter from SPT Marine to the Environment & Rural Development Committee, dated March 14 2007, bold added:

In the past 26 years we have engaged in some 10,000 ship-to-ship operations transferring around 6 billion barrels of oil. In addition to the 1995 incident in the Gulf of Mexico, two further incidents involving STS operations have resulted in an additional 4 barrels of spillage. Overall therefore a 99.998 percent safety record, but for Skaugen PetroTrans any size spill is too much and we constantly strive to improve our performance.

The ten year period we used for reporting was, in our opinion, more reflective of all the many positive changes that have seen the global safety record for oil operations result in a dramatic reduction in pollution. We had no intention of concealing any information and would be happy to forward separately, summaries of any incidents, even those unrelated to ship to ship transfer operations.

Please be aware that we have previously discussed all these incidents with the Forth Port Authority.

2. In written evidence to parliament, SPT Marine claimed an “excellent” record on ship to ship oil transfers by only referring to incidents dated AFTER the shocking oil spill in 1995. The Environment Committee then wrote to SPT Marine and Forth Ports raising the Greens’ concerns.

Forth Ports Chief Executive Charles Hammond then gave interviews to the media claiming that FP knew nothing of SPT Marine’s involvement in the incident. See Scotsman, March 5 2007, p14

3. See and:

15 March 2007

Index Heading: Environment and Rural Affairs Department

Mr Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive  what progress it is making in consulting on amending the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 in respect of ship-to-ship oil transfer in the Firth of Forth.


Sarah Boyack:

We would aim to bring forward proposals for consultation at the earliest opportunity if review of the Regulations establishes the need for any change in the way that they apply to port and harbour authority responsibilities.