Concern over Moray Firth ship-to-ship oil transfer plans

Alan McDonald
Very Rev Dr Alan McDonald

Research is to be carried out into the pros and cons of controversial ship-to-ship crude oil transfer proposals in the Moray Firth.

Commissioners at the General Assembly instructed the Church and Society Council to investigate the plans advocated by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority following a call from a former Moderator.

Very Rev Dr Alan McDonald, who moved to Cromarty on the Black Isle after retiring as the minister of St Leonard’s Parish Church in St Andrews last year, led a discussion on the issue.

He lodged a motion which urged the General Assembly to call on the UK Government to ensure that ship-to-ship transfers of crude oil are not permitted in the inner Moray Firth.


The Church of Scotland is committed to supporting measures that protect God’s creation.

Dr McDonald, who was Moderator in 2006-07, is a supporter of the Cromarty Rising campaign group which has secured more than 103,000 signatures for an online petition.

He told the General Assembly that there is an existing jetty at the Port of Nigg opposite Cromarty.

Dr McDonald said: “Oil transfers have safely taken place there for 30 years so why on earth are they not continuing to do it there, securely at a jetty rather than out at sea close to the dolphins and everything else in our fragile eco-system?

“There are other troubling aspects to this issue.

“It is estimated that possibly two million tonnes of contaminated ships’ ballast water could be discharged into this precious part of creation.

“Fumes from crude oil will be released that could affect the health of creatures and human beings on surrounding shores.

“Then there are oil spills that could be catastrophic to the coast and communities around the Moray Firth.”

Mr McDonald said Christians have a “duty of care” to look after the planet.

“I am persuaded that the caring way to transfer oil around our precious coastline is with a ship, securely tied up beside a jetty and not between two ships out at sea,” he added.

The motion was backed by the General Assembly and the Church and Society Council on the basis that further research into the merits of port authority proposals is carried out.

Cause for concern

Council convener, Rev Dr Richard Frazer, said: “We are acutely aware that the inner Moray Firth is a very sensitive area environmentally and there is a pod of dolphins that breed.

“The proposal to initiate ship-to-ship transfer of oil gives us cause for concern given there is a shore based terminal at Nigg Bay where oil can be transferred safely.

“The risk of major spillage is increased but before we call for a particular course of action we will carry out some research and examine both sides of the arguments before taking a reasoned position.

“It is important to hear both sides of the argument and to find out exactly what is going on.”

Campaigners against ship to ship oil transfers in the inner Moray Firth held a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament in January.