Campaigners fighting plans to transfer up to nine million tonnes of crude between tankers anchored in open water at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth have handed a petition with more than 100,000 signatories to Highland Council.

The Cromarty Firth Port Authority has applied for a licence to conduct the transfers, at a marine location described by experts as one of the most important dolphin sites in Europe. It is also close to other important protected environmental sites.

The port authority has been told by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to withdraw the application and resubmit another after more consultation.

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The Highland Council is one body that has to be consulted and the petition was handed to council leader Margaret Davidson.

Cromarty Rising the group leading the opposition to the plan, say it is too dangerous as an oil spill could herald an environmental catastrophe. They stress this is not nimbyism, that for three decades ship to ship oil transfers have been undertaken at the nearby jetty at the Nigg oil terminal There tankers have been tied up securely during the process, and in a statement the group said:

“Cromarty Rising has recently been made aware that Cromarty Firth Port Authority Solicitors see no legal impediment what-so-ever to the continued use on Nigg Terminal for ship to ship transfers. The Secretary of State Transport (Westminster) also confirmed, after a month long detailed review, that there is a perfectly valid ship to ship licence still in place for Nigg Terminal.”

A spokesman for the port authority responded: “The Port is acting in the interests of the majority of our stakeholders but we do understand that some people are against our application. They have the right to show their feelings by protesting, as they are doing. As the statutory harbour authority, it is important our stakeholders understand that we have a legal obligation to protect the environment of the Cromarty Firth.

“Due to the amount of work involved in reviewing this refined application, it will not be completed to allow the 42 day consultation before the end of May. To ensure that all statutory stakeholders and local communities have the time to consider the revised document in full, the Port will not be submitting our refined application until later in the year."