Marine conservation already within EU’s sights

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, mentions that current European law affects ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth, an aspect of the controversy that has received no publicity (Platform, 6 February).

Environmental protection was introduced by the then EEC in 1972 and a directive of 1985 required an environmental assessment for all major developments, extended in the Treaty of Nice to include the precautionary principle. Presumably, Forth Ports was satisfied that SPT Marine Services had complied with these requirements. The decision nevertheless to refuse permission has been attributed to opposition from conservation bodies and the Scottish government.

Strangely, an announcement by the UK government that it would regulate ship-to-ship transfers later this year, combined with Gordon Brown’s delay in introducing a UK Marine Bill has produced no comment.

Yet, in 2006, the European Commission published its green paper, “A European vision for the oceans and seas”, and last October issued a communication, “An integrated maritime policy for the European Union”.

The plan proposes to invite member states to develop national policies according to EU guidelines which will facilitate the setting-up of a surveillance system serving a European marine observation and data network based on multi-dimensional ocean mapping and covers conservation as well as shipping issues.

It is difficult to believe that the Scottish Government, Forth Ports and the various conservation bodies, including the RSPB, is unaware of this pending legislation.