A GREENPEACE ship due to launch a campaign to combat plastic pollution of the seas has been refused permission to dock in the Port of Leith, Edinburgh.

The operator, Forth Ports, has told the environmental group that it cannot bring the Esperanza in to the port this week because it is too busy. But activists are concerned that Greenpeace is being penalised for its high-profile and sometimes confrontational campaigning.

Forth Ports has told the Sunday Herald that it has offered Greenpeace an anchorage in the Firth of Forth instead. But the group insists it has not received any such offer.

The Esperanza is due to arrive in the Forth on Wednesday, but as yet Greenpeace says it has no permission to stay. The purpose of the visit is to support plans for a deposit and return scheme for drinks containers to cut plastic waste, and no direct action is planned.

Greenpeace has made many potential enemies. It has protested repeatedly against the Edinburgh-based oil firm, Cairn Energy; another of its ships, Arctic Sunrise, has been banned from parts of the Clyde after protesting against nuclear weapons; it has also been a vocal opponent of fracking.

“It’s bizarre to be stonewalled like this when we’re coming to highlight an issue of real concern to the public and critical importance to our environment,” said Willie Mackenzie, Greenpeace’s oceans expert.

“We were planning on docking the Esperanza in Leith to host an event with MSPs, campaigners and scientists to highlight the impact which a bottle deposit return scheme in Scotland could have in reducing plastic pollution in our oceans. But we hit a bit of a bottle-neck with the Forth Ports authority.”

The Scottish Government is assessing plans under which 10p or 20p deposits would be paid on plastic, glass and metal containers for soft drinks, water and alcohol. People would get their money back when they returned the containers to retailers.

Mackenzie pointed out that 12 million tonnes of plastic litter was being dumped into the sea every year. “Scotland was ahead of the curve on the plastic bag charge and, with mounting public and political support, is now in a prime position to lead the way in tackling the plastic bottle epidemic.”

Lothian Green MSP, Andy Wightman, has criticised Forth Ports’ behaviour. “I spoke with the port manager on Thursday and was disappointed to hear that the Port of Leith is apparently full,” he said.

“Why should the important work being planned by Greenpeace be at the mercy of the private corporation that owns the Port of Leith?”

Greenpeace’s campaign was welcomed by former SNP environment minister, Richard Lochhead. “ There should be no obstacles placed in the way of any organisation wishing to make a constructive and positive contribution to our debate here in Scotland,” he said.

Forth Ports insisted that it had offered Greenpeace an anchorage. “Leith is one of the busiest ports in Scotland and currently we have no berths available which are large enough to accommodate this vessel.

We have offered Greenpeace an anchorage for the Esperanza in the River Forth, which would give them access to Granton Harbour.”

TABLE: plastic pollution facts

- up to 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year

- plastic makes up 60-80 per cent of all litter in the oceans

- all the trash in the ocean could circle the Earth over 400 times.

- there’s enough plastic on the surface of the oceans to go to the moon and back twice

- 16 million plastic bottles go unrecycled every day in the UK

- a year’s worth of unrecycled bottles in the UK would stretch around the world over 30 times