Campaigners against ship to ship oil transfers at the mouth of the environmentally sensitive Cromarty Firth are taking their fight to Holyrood.

The Cromarty Rising group is now seeking to persuade MSPs to outlaw the controversial activity in areas of high conservation value across Scotland.

The group, which is leading the opposition to the Cromarty Firth Port Authority's application to transfer up to nine million tonnes of crude oil a year between tankers lying at anchor in open water, has made a submission to the Scottish Parliament's petitions committee.

The proposed mooring points are within a leading European dolphin site and close to other designated nature sites. There are concerns an oil spill will herald environmental catastrophe and sabotage the local economy.

A demonstration has also been organised for January at Holyrood along with fellow campaigners from Nairn, who fear the local tourist industry could suffer and say oil could be swept across the Moray Firth and end up on beaches in their area.

The port authority insists it takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and is currently amending its application to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to take account of some of the local concerns.

It says it needs to earn extra money to help finance the £25m upgrade of facilities at Invergordon, including its proposed new cruise liner berth, which will provide significant benefit to the local economy.

It is a year since The Herald revealed that the port authority had applied to the MCA for a licence for the ship to ship transfers. These had been conducted for 30 years without mishap at the nearby Nigg jetty, with tankers securely tied to each other and the jetty. The operators of the jetty are considering restarting the work.

But it is understood the port authority could charge less by transferring between tankers at anchor, which the campaigners argue is intrinsically more dangerous and likely to lead to oil spills.

The new petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to "consider and debate" the implications of the proposed ship to ship transfers.

In particular to focus on the likely impact of such operations "upon wildlife, tourism, local authority funding of clean-up and how it (the Scottish Government) may use its powers within the 12 mile tidal limits to protect the ecology, landscape, cultural heritage, air quality general environment and areas of high conservation value within or having continuity with the Firth."

Furthermore it seeks to ensure that environmental legislation within Scotland is sufficient to prevent such transfers of crude oil occurring in environmentally sensitive locations.

A spokesman for Cromarty Rising said the petition would also ask MSPs to ensure that stakeholders of Trust Ports and specifically those of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, have the power to hold such bodies to account.

"This could be by means of a Scottish Government appointed independent arbiter to help resolve disputes or other such means as determined by parliament. Currently the only recourse for aggrieved stakeholders after raising an issue with the Port board is legal action, which immediately disadvantages communities and other stakeholders without the finances to be able to take this forward."

He said 24 community councils around the Cromarty and Moray firths were now opposed to the port authority's application.