Dáil Éireann - Volume 377 - 02 February, 1988

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Crane Ship Samson

20. Mr. Cullen asked the Minister for the Marine the role, if any, his Department have with regard to the Samson [671] crane ship located at Ardmore, County Waterford (a) at the time the Samson ship came adrift at sea, (b) when it became stranded on the cliff face, (c) if it breaks up on the rocks, (d) with regard to salvaging the crane ship and (e) if it becomes a danger to marine life; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. P. Gallagher: I am informed that the crane barge Samson left Liverpool under tow by a tug on 9 December 1987 on its way to Valetta, Malta. South of the Smalls, off the Welsh coast, the towline parted at approximately 7.30 a.m. in the morning of 11 December. The tug remained in attendance on the crane barge and several attempts were made to reconnect the towline without success. Winds in the area on 11 December were force 6 to force 7 (near gale force) with rough waves.

The Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Shannon monitored the situation from the time the Samson entered the Irish search and rescue region and they co-ordinated the rescue of the two crew men on board the crane barge which was carried out by an RAF Sea King helicopter from Brawdy in Wales.

The grounding of the vessel at Rams Head, Ardmore, County Waterford occurred at approximately 7.50 a.m. on 12 December. A surveyor from the Marine Survey Office of my Department later boarded the vessel to investigate the cause of the casualty and to establish if a danger of pollution existed. Subsequently he instructed the owners to remove all pollutant substances. This instruction was complied with immediately. The Samson does not now pose a threat to marine life. The Marine Survey Office are continuing to monitor developments with regard to the wreck.

My Department have asked the owners of the Samson to remove the vessel. Its removal is a matter, in the first instance, for the owner. A harbour or conservancy authority, or the Commissioners of Irish Lights can also remove a wreck if they consider it an obstruction or danger to navigation. I have no statutory powers to [672] remove such wrecked vessels or to direct that they be removed. I should point out that the costs involved in wreck removal can be very great.

I am at present examining the problems involved in removal and disposal of such wrecks with a view to the enactment of new legislation in the matter, if practicable.

Mr. Cullen: I thank the Minister for his history lesson. The last part of his reply was the most interesting. Is he now saying that the Department of the Marine finally will accept responsibility in this whole area? Furthermore, is he saying that, as a result of those discussions, there will be some definitive division of the Department responsible for dealing with these types of wrecks? The Minister said that a surveyor of his Department went to examine the wreck: on what date did that inspection take place?

Would he also not agree that, in terms of a wreck, from 12 December to today is a long time? As I understand it, the only hope one has of dealing with such cases is by immediate action. If one does not react to the danger within 48 hours, the chances of satisfactorily removing such a wreck at a later date is greatly lessened by the delay. The key to this is that the Department must take responsibility. I was in touch with the Department of the Marine and the Department of the Environment. The Department of the Marine——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry but I must advise Members that I am seeking to dispose of the remaining two Priority Questions within the prescribed time. I would ask the Deputy and Deputy Avril Doyle, whose questions will follow, to be very brief. I shall pass to other business at 3.45 p.m.

Mr. Cullen: Is it a fact that the Minister's Department are taking responsibility for this wreck? Up to now they have denied this and told me it was the responsibility of the Department of the Environment who, in turn, told me it was the responsibility of the Department of [673] the Marine. May I have an answer to that question?

Mr. P. Gallagher: I hope the Deputy's first question did not infer that there was any delay because I was about to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Marine Survey Office who very expeditiously dealt with this case. The grounding of the vessel occurred at approximately 7.50 a.m. on 12 December and on the evening of that day the marine surveyor was in touch with the owners who were very cooperative. They ensured that a company in Cork, Celtic Sea Divers, removed the pollutant substances—12 tonnes plus 800 gallons of diesel oil — very expeditiously. Those with responsibility to remove wrecks are harbour authorities, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and conservancy authorities. In the meantime, the Sea Pollution Bill is with the Attorney General and we are looking at the possibility of extending these powers to deal with cases like this.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Question No. 21.

Mr. Cullen: May I ask the Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must desist, I am calling Question No. 21.