CONTROVERSIAL plans to transfer up to nine million tonnes of crude oil between tankers at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth have been scrapped after the firm behind the scheme was ordered to withdraw its application.

The Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA) will have to prepare a new application if it wants to continue with its highly controversial project that put a colony of bottlenose dolphins at risk.

It has also been told by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) it must conduct a wide ranging consultation of all interested parties if it is applying again.

Read more: Cromarty Firth campaigners go to Holyrood

Local campaigners, who oppose the ship to ship (STS) application because the proposed mooring points are in open water within a leading European dolphin site and close to other designated nature sites, welcomed the move.

They fear an oil spill would herald environmental catastrophe and sabotage the local economy.

However they do not oppose a resumption of STS between tankers firmly secured to the nearby jetty at Nigg which have been conducted safely over 30 years.

Cromarty Rising, the group leading the opposition, said: “We’ll take this as a small victory for common sense. However, in the absence of the CFPA categorically stating that they are going to drop this plan, it is imperative that the fight goes on.”

An MCA spokeswoman said: “The MCA has directed Cromarty Firth Port Authority to withdraw the application made in 2015 and submit a new application.

Read more: Cromarty Firth campaigners go to Holyrood

“On behalf of the MCA, CFPA will undertake a public consultation on this new application, and the full involvement of the Scottish Government, environmental agencies and wildlife organisations will be sought. The MCA will be contacting organisations and individuals who contributed to the first consultation to inform them of the new consultation.”

Bob Buskie, the chief executive of the port authority, said: “We will follow the standing application protocol, as directed by the MCA. We are looking forward to the next phase of the process and, as part of this, meeting many stakeholders including SEPA, SNH, Highland Council, RSPB, Marine Scotland and members of the public, through our ongoing consultation.”

He said that the port authority had already refined its application and he was confident that the changes made would reassure local people.

But a spokesman for Cromarty Rising, said: “Given that 25 community councils surrounding the firth oppose this application, nearly 20,000 have signed a petition, and another petition is making its way through the Scottish Parliament we consider that the CFPA should listen to their stakeholders who are telling them loud and clear that they do not want STS at sea.

Read more: Cromarty Firth campaigners go to Holyrood

“If the CFPA choose to continue to ignore the communities surrounding the Moray Firth, then we have no choice but to call for the resignation of the chairman and chief executive.”

The petition to Holyrood calls on MSPs to urge the Scottish Government to ensure environmental legislation in Scotland is sufficient to prevent STS of crude oil in environmentally sensitive locations, such as the Inner Moray Firth, and to enhance the accountability of trust port boards to their stakeholders.