Oil Leak 285 Moray Firth SAC Management Group

Finally, the Moray Firth SAC Management Group release their December 2016 minutes – you will remember this was the time when the “2nd application” was going to be submitted. It wasn’t. It’s taken until their recent 2017 meeting to approve the minutes. Before we get to that we thought we’d take a look at the June 2016 minutes, from the time of the first application, here the link:



Now you might think that a body composing SEPA, SNH, Marine Scotland, Highland Council and the Port of Cromarty Firth (along with others), whose remit is to manage the SAC, actually:

“These Authorities are required to make sure that the well-being of the dolphins, the condition of their habitat and the condition of the sandbanks are protected when they carry out their every day work.”

might have discussed the STS application, without a doubt the biggest issue, certainly in terms of public interest, with regard to the Moray Firth and certainly with the concerns raised with regard to dolphins, their habitat and sub-tidal sandbanks you’d think it would be near the top of their agenda. Well – it didn’t even make it on to their agenda – for a group that is meant to meet twice a year but had not met for the previous 4 years this is at best questionable. The issue was mentioned by both SNH and SEPA in their reports – we’ll come back to that. Don’t forget this is the STS applicant and the 4 main consultees together in a room discussing issues pertinent to the management of the Moray Firth. What should we take from that? We really don’t know!

Anyway, there are some relevant details:

There was a lot of discussion about the impact of tour operators on dolphins – the minutes record:

Members discussed whether the pressure on dolphins was evenly spread across the Firth. BL said it was thought that boats operating around “hotspots” or feeding areas such as Chanonry Point or the Sutors, for example, could have a disproportionately greater effect on dolphins compared to operators further out in the Firth.

Hmmm…..what about sticking oil tankers in the “hotspots” and transferring oil – surely that is going to have an impact? You’d have thought that may have come up in conversation at least – it didn’t.

Then there was discussion of rig / tanker anchoring and concerns raised by the fishermen:

The new North and East Coast regional Inshore Fisheries Group, which covers the Moray Firth area had recently indicated that such tanker / fishing liaison was an issue to be dealt with locally, rather than through the IFG. The MFP therefore presented the paper to the SAC MG on behalf of local fishermen to:

a) Raise awareness of the safety issues faced by small vessels where gear towed across the seabed could become trapped in large anchor holes and cause a vessel to capsize (although not a matter for the SAC); and

b) Raise the issue of potential vessel anchor damage to subtidal sandbanks which are another SAC qualifying feature.

c) Request that any ongoing activities that could cause damage to the qualifying sandbank interest should be taken into account by Marine Scotland or the SAC management group when considering any management conditions, and not just fisheries in isolation.

Again an opportunity to discuss the impacts of NEW anchorages from STS on boats (large anchor holes) and damage to sub-tidal sandbanks. Not taken.

In the members updates section, SEPA reported:

“SEPA have received a notable volume of phone calls regarding the proposed ship to ship oil transfer application.”

I bet they did. Also SNH note:

“SNH have been busy with regards to the ship to ship oil transfer application. BL highlighted how the SAC MG could have been utilised in the early stages of this process in public engagement and consultation to avoid the resulting difficulties.

BL highlighted the guidance document prepared by SNH about how to prepare a Habitats Regulations Appraisal for the Firth of Forth. BL thought that it was a useful document and asked the group to consider if something similar might usefully be produced for the Moray Firth.”

Interesting point from SNH – why was the SAC management group not utilised in the process?? Why has the SAC management group not discussed this issue? Here’s the PoCF report:

GG noted the change in name from the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA) to Port of Cromarty Firth. There has been steady trade in the last few years, although the downturn in the oil industry is noticeable. There have been a significant number of rigs applying for ‘cold stacking’. Regardless, there have been expansions to the Port, most notably the development of Phase 3 Berth 5 and it is expected that the PoCF will benefit from the recent approval of the latest Beatrice Offshore Wind Limited (BOWL) development.

There have been significant dredging operations, and the science gathered during the process is intended to be used nationally, with MS involved in the process. There has been good collaboration between the PoCF and Global Energy Nigg, notably with dredge spoil from Nigg being utilised in the new berth development at PoCF.

The Cromarty ferry has been reinstated.

Talk about avoid the main issue – not only do they not mention STS but they failed to mention decommissioning! They’re 2 keystone projects. However, they did manage to say that the Cromarty Ferry had been reinstated which had absolutely nothing to do with PoCF! Does this strike anyone as being a little odd that the STS would not even been mentioned and the group managing the SAC would completely fail to discuss the issue despite its high public profile? Next oil leak, we’ll take a look at the December 2016 minutes – maybe there are answers in there!