ALMOST 12,000 people have backed a petition against controversial plans for ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth.
Protesters claim they were "snubbed" by rural economy minister Fergus Ewing when delivering the 38 Degrees Scotland petition to his constituency surgery in Nairn.
It was handed to his staff as he was engaged in ministerial duties.
The letters urge him to intervene to deter further applications for such oil transfers within the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation, a haven for bottlenose dolphins.
A spokesman for the Cromarty Rising campaign group said: "Mr Ewing is paid £62,149 per year to represent constituents and a further £46,705 per year to represent everyone in Scotland as a cabinet minister. This threat has been hanging over local businesses, preventing inward investment for the local and regional economy.
"Who’s going to expand a tourism-based opportunity when the Firth could be filled by noisy, smelly tankers disturbing our stunning beaches and visual amenity?"
Speaking in his capacity as constituency MSP for Inverness and Nairn, Mr Ewing said: "I contacted 38 Degrees to advise that I was unavailable to receive the petition personally in my constituency due to ministerial business. I also advised that it would be more appropriate for the petition to be presented to the minister in charge of oil and energy matters, Paul Wheelhouse and that, as constituency MSP, I am perfectly happy to pass the document to my colleague."
A spokeswoman for the port said: "We have one of the safest records in the world for oil transfers, which are necessary to move oil around the world and bring it onshore where it’s converted into fuel, plastics and detergents.
"Over 175 million barrels of oil have been transferred safely in the Firth over the past 30 years and we’re confident this safety record would continue under the proposed additional licence."