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From the Scotsman -

Forth ship-to-ship oil transfers approved

CONTROVERSIAL ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth were today given the green light.

The decision was greeted with horror by environmental groups, who have warned oil spills could spoil public enjoyment of the Forth and devastate sensitive natural habitats.

And Fife councillors were considering possible legal action to stop the transfers.

The go-ahead for the plans came when the Maritime and Coastguard Agency today announced its intention to approve the contingency plan put forward by Forth Ports plc to deal with any oil spill. The decision is now expected to be rubber-stamped by Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander, paving the way for Forth Ports to agree plans by Melbourne Marine Services to transfer up to eight million tonnes of Russian crude oil every year.

The Sunderland-based company wants to establish an anchorage four miles off the Fife coast where small tankers from terminals in the Baltic and Barents seas can pump oil to giant tankers to deliver to the US and Far East.

Officials at Fife Council were today locked in emergency talks. A spokeswoman said the council was considering legal action and was investigating what legal grounds it could use to stop the transfers going ahead, and how a fairer decision-making process could be introduced.

Ship-to-ship transfers can be carried out only if the relevant harbour authority has an approved oil spill contingency plan in place which covers such activities. But once an approved contingency plan is in place, it is up to Forth Ports, in its capacity as the harbour authority, to decide whether to permit the transfers.

Stuart Hay, spokesman for Friends of the Earth Scotland, claimed today's decision ignored the results of a public consultation on the proposals.

He said: "The Firth of Forth is now at a greater risk of an oil spill thanks to minimal regulations, a rigged consultation and the greed of the harbour authority. The decision has undoubtedly ignored the results of the botched consultation, a process which has now been shown to be a sham.

"The only people who can stop this potentially disastrous plan are Forth Ports who stand to make millions from the oil transfers, unless shareholders hold bosses to account. That a plan like this can get the go-ahead and no public body can stop it is staggering."

Robin Harper, Scottish Green Party MSP for the Lothians, added: "We have been badly let down by the legislators - this is very bad news."

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said its decision followed a 12-week public consultation launched in February to assess the implications of revised contingency plans for nature conservation sites in the area.

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