Greens today welcomed the statement by the Scottish Executive to act quickly to address the proposed ship-to-ship oil transfer project in the Firth of Forth.

Greens proposed a change to the regulations under devolved responsibilities which SNP Ministers have indicated their willingness to take forward.

The Scottish Green Party amendment to regulations under the Habitat Directive will give more powers to Ministers over the oil transfer proposal, requiring a ‘certificate of compliance’ to be issued before the project can go ahead. Regulation under the Habitats Directive is a devolved responsibility of the Scottish Executive.(1) Greens have led campaigning to stop the oil transfer project over the last parliament.

Greens welcomed cross party support for action but described the critical comments by the former Labour Executive Minister Rhona Brankin as ‘rich’ considering how the previous administration was so slow to do anything about it for three years.

Robin Harper MSP, Scottish Green Party Co-convener, said: “The new Executive can and must move quickly to block the threat of oil spillage that continues to face the Firth of Forth. It is ludicrous that the final say on the oil transfer project rests with the private company standing to profit from it. I am delighted that the Greens’ proposal to resolve this problem is being considered by the Executive, and I am confident that a solution can be implemented quickly.

“I would however urge the Minister to not waste any time bashing his head against the Westminster wall on this one – because it is clear that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are gung-ho in favour of the oil project. I am pleased that the Minister finds our proposal for emergency legislation attractive. We should act quickly within our powers, and then move forward to implement a comprehensive Marine Bill to sort out the guddle of laws and regulations governing the sea in due course.”

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Notes to Editors

1. A draft copy of the proposed Statutory Instrument is available from the press office. It is an amendment to regulations implementing the Habitats Directive, which will oblige any authority, not covered by the existing regulations, such as Forth Ports, to apply for a ‘certificate of compliance’ from Scottish Ministers before the go-ahead for any activity likely to damage European Conservation Areas can take place – ship to ship transfer in the Forth would be one such activity.

2.Background: Controversy over the plan by shipping company Melbourne Marine and Forth Ports plc has raged for the past two years. The Forth is considered a dangerous location to carry our the transfer of millions of barrels of oil every year between ships at swinging anchor. Other, safer locations were identified in the Donaldson Inquiry Report following the Braer disaster in the 90s – such as Scapa Flow. It is understood that the Forth location is chosen simply to save one day’s shipping time. The company involved are also accused of misleading Parliament by omitting to mention a major spill in another ship to ship operation in the gulf of Mexico.

All relevant local councils – Fife, Edinburgh City and East Lothian – are opposing the transfer plans, as are environmental organisations and SNH. The Forth plan, by Melbourne Marine Services Ltd, aims to transfer Russian oil into ‘Ultra Large Crude Carriers’ en route to the United States and the Far East.

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Executive Ministers in the last session prevaricated on legal changes to take the regulatory powers from Forth Ports.