CAMPAIGNERS have accused Scottish ministers and the SNP’s new Westminster leader of misleading Parliament over plans to transfer crude oil between tankers at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth.

They say parliamentary statements that the Scottish Government had not been consulted formally about the Cromarty Firth Port Authority’s application to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to conduct the transfers are inaccurate.

Nine million tonnes of crude a year would be pumped between vessels at one of the most important dolphin sites in Europe.

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The port authority has been told to submit a new application but the Cromarty Rising Group, which opposes the transfers, is deeply concerned by the Scottish Government’s attitude.

It says that, despite repeated denials, documents it obtained under freedom of information show “a legal and valid invitation” to consultation was sent to the head of Marine Scotland’s (MS) licensing operations team, on behalf of the Scottish Government, on December 9, 2015. 

Scientific reports were duly compiled as part of a draft response by ministers.

But Transport Scotland Ports and Harbours staff advised MS not to respond to the consultation, in an email dated January 25, 2016, which “shows this is in line with a previously established Scottish Government position”.

The group also claims an internal email between civil servants on February 2, 2016, confirms no consultation response would be made and says: “This means the Scottish Government knowingly and deliberately blocked their own scientists’ response to the consultation six days before it closed.”

Cromarty Rising further alleges Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, misled MSPs in a statement to the Scottish Parliament on May 2 this year. 

In addition, on February 24, 2016, Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford, now the new SNP Westminster leader, told the House of Commons: “It is safe to say Marine Scotland was not contacted by the MCA or by the UK Government.” 

He went on to say this was “a serious matter not least because of the potential threat to people in my community of ship-to-ship transfers taking place and of the Scottish Government not being adequately consulted on their responsibilities for environmental protection."

Cromarty Rising accepts it is possible Mr Blackford did not know a formal invitation to consultation had been received and a decision taken in the Scottish Government not to respond.

But this decision, they believe, represents in European law a failure to protect the special area of conservation established for bottlenose dolphins and marine life. 

Mr Blackford said he would leave any comment to the Scottish Government.

Its' spokesman said: “The Scottish Government was not invited to respond by the Department of Transport during the original application process. 

“As has already been made clear, Marine Scotland officials were included in a mass email from environmental consultants, with no direct approach.

“There is no evidence to support these allegations and it is simply wrong to suggest a response was blocked. 

“As is normal practice, civil servants in different policy areas discuss and 
exchange views on matters of overlapping interest.”