CAMPAIGNERS opposed to ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth are taking their fight to Europe.
Pressure group Cromarty Rising has lodged a complaint with the European Commission about the Port of Cromarty Firth’s licence application.
It has highlighted concerns aired by the licensing authority, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), in previous observations about the port’s application.
It has also questioned the accuracy of remarks made by the port in previous coverage of the issue.
In describing the position of anchorage sites, Cromarty Rising claims the port failed to accurately define the name of the firth and location of specific anchorage.
The group claims it is "not the first time the port has failed to give accurate descriptions of proposed sites – they did the same thing in the previous application in December 2015".
The proposed oil transfers are opposed by more than 100,000 people who have signed a petition on the issue as well as multiple wildlife organisations and most of the neighbouring community councils.
Concern over the plans has also been expressed by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
It is unclear when the port will submit its revised licence application.
Responding to the latest criticism, a spokeswoman for the port said: "The protection of the pristine waters, the wildlife and the habitats of the firth is a legal obligation and one of our main priorities.
"We would not be applying for the licence if we thought it would endanger the marine environment.
"We remain committed to attracting oil transfers back into the safety of the firth."
She added: "Discussions are ongoing with the owners and operators of Nigg oil terminal to bring it back into use."
A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has been established in the firth, designated for the protection of bottlenose dolphins and its sub-tidal sandbanks.
Cromarty Rising stressed that Scottish Government guidelines for Scottish trust ports carry a ministerial foreword requiring the facilities "to undertake their duties in an open and transparent manner".
A spokesman for the group said: "The port authority don’t seem to know where the Cromarty Firth ends and the SAC starts.
"Their proposed transfers of crude oil are at anchorages inside the SAC.
"The location of the proposed transfers is what people object to, and not the transfers of crude oil themselves.
"The port already has a licence for Nigg Terminal, supporting highly skilled jobs. Why on Earth do they want to move industrial activity to inside an SAC with greater risk of injury to marine life?"
The MCA stated in feedback of the port’s 2015 application that successful ship-to-ship operations were already carried out across the berths at Nigg Oil Terminal "and no reason has been given why these cannot continue".
It added: "These have considerably less risk than (transfers) at anchor, both as regards the probability of an incident and as the consequences from oil spills".
Cromarty Rising has a live petition at the Scottish Parliament calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that environmental legislation in Scotland is sufficient to prevent ship-to-ship crude oil transfers in environmentally sensitive locations such as the inner Moray Firth SAC.
A debate on such oil transfers was held at the Parliament last May.