Dáil Éireann - Volume 416 - 28 February, 1992

International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1969: Motion.

[995] Minister for the Marine (Dr. Woods): I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1969, done at Brussels on the 29th day of November, 1969; the Protocol to that Convention done at London on the 19th day of November, 1976; the International Convention on the establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971, done at Brussels on the 18th day of December, 1971, and the Protocol to that Convention done at London on the 19th day of November, 1976, copies of which instruments were laid before Dáil Éireann on 18th May, 1988.

We are indebted to the International Maritime Organisation, or the IMO as it is commonly known, for the adoption of these multilateral treaties and instruments. As the only specialised agency of the United Nations wholly dedicated to maritime affairs, the IMO's twin objectives are cleaner oceans and safer seas. Although the control and prevention of marine pollution is IMO's primary concern the organisation have been instrumental in promoting the means by which adequate compensation is paid to those who suffer when pollution does occur. The cost of cleaning up oil spills and the economic loss suffered by various sections of the economy e.g. fisheries, wildlife and tourism, can run into millions of pounds. It was in response to the economic impact of a major oil spill that the IMO adopted the Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage in 1969. The IMO are, at this very time, in the process of considering a liability regime for pollution by harmful and noxious substances to complement the regime for pollution by oil.

The International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1969, commonly referred to as the Civil Liability [996] Convention, obliges owners of tankers carrying more than 2,000 tonnes of persistent oil as cargo to or from a harbour, terminal installation or offshore terminal, to maintain insurance covering liability for oil pollution damage. Tankers must carry on board a certificate attesting the insurance cover of the ship. Liability may be limited to 113 Special Drawing Rights, SDR, of the International Monetary Fund per ton of the ship's tonnage, approximately IR£114 per ton, or 14 million SDR, approximately IR£12 million, whichever is the lesser.

Owners of tankers have strict liability, i.e. in the absence of fault, for oil pollution damage except in a few cases, namely, when the damage results from an act of war or a grave natural disaster; where the damage is wholly caused by sabotage by a third party or the damage is wholly caused by the failure of authorities to maintain navigational aids. If the oil pollution damage is proved to have been due to the personal fault of the tanker owner, he may not limit his liability.

Damage caused by spills of non-persistent oil, for example, gasoline, light diesel oil, kerosene, spills from a tanker during a ballast voyage or spills of bunker oil from ships other than tankers do not fall within the scope of the Civil Liability Convention. In 1971, the IMO recognised that the regime established by the Civil Liability Convention did not afford full compensation for victims of oil pollution damage in all cases, and that the financial burden of paying compensation should not exclusively be borne by the shipping industry but should in part be borne by the oil cargo interests, for example, the oil importers.

The International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971, or the Fund Convention as it is commonly known, was adopted to supplement Civil Liability Convention compensation. The supplementary compensation or “top up” available under the Fund Convention becomes payable if claimants are unable to obtain full compensation [997] under the Civil Liability Convention for one of the following reasons: no liability arises under the Civil Liability Convention; the owner is financially incapable of meeting his obligations under the Civil Liability Convention and his insurance is inadequate; and the damage exceeds the owner's liability under the Civil Liability Convention. However, the Fund Convention does not have to pay compensation if the pollution damage resulted from an act of war; if it cannot be proved that the damage resulted from an incident involving one or more laden tankers or was due to the wilful misconduct or personal fault of the tanker owner.

The Fund Convention set up in 1978 an international organisation, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) to administer the system of compensation. The IOPCF is financed by contributions levied on receivers of crude oil and fuel oil exceeding 150,000 tonnes in a calendar year into a contracting state. Three Irish companies viz ESB, Irish National Petroleum Corporation and Aughinish Alumina will fall to pay a pro rata contribution of approximately £3,000 each per annum to the Fund on Ireland's accession to the Fund. The compensation payable to the IOPCF in respect of an incident is limited to an aggregate amount of 60 million SDR, approximately IR£51 million, including the sum payable under the Civil Liability Convention, which is up to approximately £12 million. It will be noted that this is a topping-up fund that allows for further compensation.

The Civil Liability Convention entered into force in 1975 and the Fund Convention in 1978. The Civil Liability Convention has 68 contracting states, the Fund Convention has 46 contracting states. Only states which are party to the Civil Liability Convention may become party to the Fund Convention. A state has to be part of the Civil Liability Convention and be contributing towards that to become part of the topping-up convention.

Both Conventions have been amended by Protocols in 1976 and 1984. The 1976 [998] amendments were of a technical nature. The 1984 Protocols made more fundamental amendments. Ireland gives effect in domestic law to the Civil Liability Convention, the Fund Convention and their respective 1976 Protocals by way of the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act, 1988. The Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act, 1988, does not encompass the terms of the 1984 Protocols to the two Conventions. These Protocols provide for higher limits of compensation and a wider scope of application. The Protocols are not likely to come into force internationally in the foreseeable future because the minimum tonnage requirements for ratification (or accession) would necessitate the inclusion of the US fleet. The United States introduced its own Oil Pollution Act in 1990, which Act imposes strict liability, jointly and severally, upon each responsible party for a spill of oil of any kind or in any form.

A diplomatic conference to consider modification of the 1984 Protocols will be held in IMO Headquarters in London in November this year. I hope that officials of my Department will take an active part in that conference.

I consider Ireland's accession to the Civil Liability and Fund Conventions and their 1976 Protocols of paramount importance. Ireland's geographical location on the periphery of Europe with the Atlantic Ocean lying to the west, south-west and south and at the apex of one of the busiest ocean-trading routes in the world, in particular for the transport of oil, leaves her vulnerable to threats of pollution. Marine disasters like the Torrey Canyon, 1967, the Amoco Cadiz, 1978, the Exxon Valdez, 1989, and the Rose Bay, 1990, serve as vivid reminders of the implications for the marine environment of a massive release of oil over a short period of time in coastal waters. There is no reason that Ireland should escape a disaster of their magnitude.

At the meeting of the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee next month the committee will seek to decide [999] upon measures to improve the level of protection of the marine environment against accidents involving oil tankers. In particular, measures to prevent or reduce oil spills in the case of collisions and groundings are envisaged. A proposal to require new oil tankers to have double bottoms and double skins or to have alternative construction features providing a level of protection at least equal to double skins will be on the table.

As the Minister holding responsibility for the marine resource, I am committed to protection of the marine environment. Accession to the Civil Liability and Compensation Fund Conventions will enhance the measures which have been taken within my Department in recent times to protect that environment. These include the setting up of a new marine emergency service — Slanú — which has assumed responsibility for the operational aspects of search, rescue, sea and coastal pollution and shipwreck; and the passage of the Sea Pollution Act, 1991, which will give effect to the MARPOL 73/78 Convention prohibiting or regulating the discharge into the sea of harmful substances and ships' wastes and to a Protocol on Intervention on the High Seas in cases of maritime casualties involving harmful substances. A wreck and salvage Bill which will provide a mechanism for removal of wrecks that are a blight on the environment will be presented to Government in the near future.

Arising from a recent joint UK-Ireland study group report on the state of the Irish Sea two important initiatives have been undertaken. First, a joint co-ordination group is being set up to carry out further research and monitoring of the Irish Sea. It is expected that the candidate selected for a three-year appointment as scientific co-ordinator working under the co-ordination group will take up appointment within the next few weeks. Second, discussions on a joint UK-Ireland maritime contingency plan covering pollution incidents and maritime casualties in the Irish Sea are in progress.

In the event of Ireland not becoming [1000] party to the Civil Liability and Fund Conventions and a major oil spill from a tanker carrying oil in bulk as cargo occurring, the State would be dependent on two measures: (1) the shipowner responsible for any loss or damage limiting his liability for compensation up to a maximum of £8 per ton of the ship's gross tonnage in accordance with section 503 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. Payment of the compensation would be subject to the offending ship having been identified, the shipowner not having absconded and his having sufficient assets to meet his legal limit of liability. Deputies will realise that that would not be desirable for Ireland; and (2) a certain degree of cover by the Tanker Owners' Voluntary Agreement concerning Liablity for Oil Pollution, TOVALOP, and by the Contracts Regarding an Interim Supplement to Tanker Liability for Oil Pollution, CRISTAL.

These are two voluntary commercial schemes. The TOVALOP scheme is covered by shipowners' insurance whereas CRISTAL is financed by the cargo owners. The schemes are complementary to the regime established by the Civil Liability and Fund Conventions since they come into play to the extent that compensation is not obtainable under the Conventions. While the scope of TOVALOP and CRISTAL is similar to that of the international conventions, it is not possible to incorporate their terms into national law. One has to rely on the bona fides of the commercial bodies.

At the international conference which adopted the IMO Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, 1990, it was stressed that an efficient system of compensation was of great importance to ensure rapid response and assistance between States since such a system would make it easier for the States involved to recover costs incurred in the assistance given. In the preamble to that convention the conference inserted a reference to the importance of the Civil Liability and Fund Conventions.

Many Deputies will recall the damage done to the Irish coastline in counties [1001] Cork and Waterford following the sinking of the Kowloon Bridge off the Stags Rocks in November 1986. They will also be aware of the initiation of civil proceedings for the recovery of the State's claim for £1.75 million to cover oil and paint removal and clean-up operations. They will wish to know the extent to which Ireland's earlier accession to the Civil Liability and Fund Conventions might have assisted the State. The conventions would not have applied in this case as the Kowloon Bridge was a 169,080 deadweight ton bulk carrier, not a tanker and it was carrying 159,420 tonnes of iron ore as cargo, not oil in bulk as cargo. These conventions relate to tankers carrying oil in bulk. I am satisfied that my Department would now be in a better position to handle a pollution disaster than in 1986.

The Marine Pollution Response Team which comes under the aegis of Slanú — the Irish Marine Emergency Service — has been very successful in preventing or minimising pollution from ship casualties in the past few years. Slanú itself has available to it the services of a Marine Emergency Advisory Group. This group is made up of senior officers of the maritime and land-based emergency services and assembles as a task force during major emergencies to advise me and the director of Slanú on the appropriate response. The State's powers of intervention with a ship for the purpose of preventing, mitigating or eliminating danger from pollution or a threat of pollution arising from a maritime casualty have also been broadened under the Sea Pollution Act, 1991. That Act provides for the recoupment of expenses incurred in removing pollution or making good any damage done out of fines imposed by the court. The Act also provides for the payment of the costs and expenses of the Minister in relation to the investigation, detection and prosecution of an offence under the Act including costs incurred in the taking of samples, the carrying out of tests, examinations and analyses and in respect of the remuneration and other expenses of employees, consultants and advisers. These provisions were included [1002] in the Act to take account of the lessons learnt from the Kowloon Bridge incident. Penalties for breach of any of the requirements of the Sea Pollution Act, 1991, are a fine not exceeding £10 million and/or up to five years imprisonment for conviction on indictment.

Following approval of this Motion and Government approval of: (i) an Order under the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act, 1967; (ii) Ireland's accession to the Conventions and Protocols; and (iii) a period of 90 days after deposit of instrument of accession with the IOPCF in London; the Conventions and Protocols will come into force in this country.

I commend adoption of the motion to the House.

Mr. Durkan: I welcome the motion before the House. The first paragraph of the Minister's speech is somewhat complicated. It says:

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1969, done at Brussels on 29 November, 1969; the Protocol to that Convention done at London on 19 November 1976; the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971, done at Brussels on 18 December, 1971, and the Protocol to that Convention done at London on 19 November, 1976. Copies of these instruments were laid before Dáil Éireann on 18 May 1988.

With regard to instruments like this, I often wonder how long we have to wait before they are produced in the House. I appreciate that the Minister has put this before the House.

Dr. Woods: There will be lots more.

Mr. Durkan: We are delighted to hear that. Nowadays we need to respond more quickly and not allow four or five years to elapse before we recognise such agreements and conventions in this House.

As the House is aware my county is [1003] not a maritime county. We do not have an ocean. We have a few harbour bars, but that is about as far as we can go in the maritime area.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The constituencies can be revised and the Deputy can take in a bit of Wicklow.

Mr. Durkan: We almost got a bit of Wicklow. On a more serious note, we all have an interest in the effect that the pollution of the seas might have on this country. As spokesman on safety and insurance for Fine Gael I also have an interest in the way in which all cargoes are transported across the seas. From what I can gather there is not adequate supervision of the transportation of oil cargoes and other dangerous liquids by sea. From reports of some incidents it appears that some tankers and bulk carriers are being run in the way one would run a carnival at a fair green. It would appear that supervision is poor and staffing levels are inadequate for seagoing vessels carrying large amounts of potential pollutants. Neither the crews nor the ship owners were anxious to come forward to accept their responsibilities. They accepted their responsibilities in many cases after some encouragement. With the encouragement incorporated in these regulations and protocols they will have to do so to a greater extent in the future. There has been a tendency in the last number of years to employ only a skeleton crew to look after bulk carriers and oil carriers and in the case of an emergency the crew are not in a position to take the necessary action. Unfortunately the public must pay the price. So far, we have been fairly lucky in that there has not been a major spillage in this part of the world in recent times, but I am not sure that it will not happen. While it is a good thing to have insurance to cover the eventuality, that does not prevent an accident occurring and prevention is better than cure. The regulations pertaining to the manner in which cargoes are supervised and transported and the manner in which staff levels are [1004] arrived at are crucial factors to be looked at in an effort to eliminate pollution.

We must also look at the construction of some of these tankers. Looking at huge tankers in the sea from the air, one often wonders how many crew are on board and if they can cope with any emergency that might arise and whether or not the tanker is capable of withstanding the pressure of the sea. Are these tankers as soundly constructed as we would like our homes to be constructed? There has been a large number of incidents over the past ten years in which it has been proved that tankers have not been properly constructed. On at least one occasion there was evidence to suggest that the fabric of a tanker actually gave way under the pressures of the seas. That should not happen.

I welcome the regulations and the resolution the Minister has brought before the House and I know the Minister is equally aware of the problems to which I have just alluded. I hope the Minister will do his utmost to ensure that our neighbours, and other countries, realise that we are an island nation — with the United Kingdom the only two in Europe — and are thus more vulnerable to pollutants which are likely to have a greater impact on our economy. We have a reasonably good environment on the mainland — if that is not too insensitive a word to use today — and off our coastline, but we need to protect it.

The Minister referred to the Kowloon Bridge disaster. The vessel was carrying a cargo of iron ore but there was a considerable amount of fuel on board and it was this that created the problem. The major contributory factors to the accidents at sea may be: first, improper construction of the vessel or, where the vessel is too old, unseaworthiness; second, insufficient staffing levels and, third, insufficient control and supervision on board. I remember some years ago being informed that it appeared that a carnival atmosphere prevailed on a boat which was involved in an incident at sea. We should not allow such luxuries. We must have stricter application of the rules of the sea to the masters of large and [1005] small cargo vessels. We must enforce the law rigidly, but the Minister covered this point in his speech.

I am sure that my colleagues who have greater access to the sea will have something further to add.

Mr. G. O'Sullivan: I welcome the motion before the House and my only criticism is that it took so long to get here, which is not the Minister's fault.

This motion is vitally important to us as an island nation as it brings us into a position whereby compensation will be paid as an obligation from a long standing international fund, a fact that has been sadly lacking in our international agreements, particularly international maritime agreements. I take this opportunity to emphasise the importance to this country of all aspects of marine activity, including marine protection. I totally reject the comments of commentators that the Minister, Dr. Woods, was demoted from the Department of Agriculture and Food when he was appointed Minister for the Marine. There seems to be a perception that when one is given responsibility for the Marine portfolio, that signifies a drop in prestige or a reduction in status. I reject this mentality and as a fellow Corkman, Tom McSweeney, said on his RTE programme “Seascapes”: “this perception is to be deplored”. I am sure those who make their living from the sea and those who have an interest in maritime affairs wholeheartily agree with his assessment.

As Labour spokesperson on the Marine, I view this brief as one of the most important in Government. For far too long it has been ignored. Its massive potential for job creation and food production has never been fully realised. The Minister had a very good record in the Department of Social Welfare and, indeed, as the Minister for Agriculture and Food. He may be able to put marine matters on the top of the Government's agenda and once and for all dispel the myth that the Department of the Marine is the “Cinderella” of Government Departments. He can be assured of my co-operation. We may disagree on many [1006] occasions but the Minister can be assured that any criticism will be constructive, which, as an elected Member, I am obliged to give in Dáil Éireann.

It is a pity that time for this debate is limited because although the motion may have the support of the House, it is important to spell out clearly the magnitude of the effects of an oil spillage. Unfortunately, we have seen the results of oil pollution off our coast. The fire on board the Betelgeuse in Bantry Bay resulted in a tragic loss of life and damage to the environment and fishing in the area. However, the company involved responded to the spillages and to consequent spillages. There is always the danger where there is a transhipment of oil or where there are oil storage facilities that damage may occur.

The Minister outlined the case of the ill-fated Kowloon Bridge, which caused massive damage. This ship was carrying a cargo of iron ore, but the spillage from its oil bunkers created havoc along the west Cork beaches. This created the impression abroad that west Cork was a disaster area for tourism. Although this boat's cargo was iron ore it was indicated that the vessel was carrying 1,500 tonnes of bunker oil when only 60 tonnes was needed for the trip. This has never been fully explained. It is estimated that 5,000 sea birds were destroyed in this incident and serious damage was also done to marine life in the area. The argument for compensation has been dragging on for years in the courts but, hopefully, the motion before us will go a long way in having effective compensation promptly paid to the injured parties.

When one considers the huge amount of crude oil and petroleum products, estimated at 1.5 billion tonnes, which is transported annually across the world one can understand the huge risks involved. Very often tankers have to contend with severe weather conditions. Taking into consideration the size, dead weight and manoeuvrability of the vessel, it needs a particular skill and seamanship to guide and control a ship very often double size of Croke Park. What is now a matter of serious concern to all nations. [1007] and particularly to Ireland, is the fact that some of these gigantic ships are coming to the end of their productive life as oceangoing carriers. The major oil companies are running down their tanker fleets and are now chartering vessels from agencies, who in turn charter vessels from independent owners who may have poorly managed vessels. This is all done in the interest of saving money and making greater profits. The International Transport Workers' Federation have expressed their concern at the crewing of these tankers and pointed out that the crew may speak a variety of different languages. This, coupled with an aging ship may add to the hazard of the transportation of large quantities of crude oil by sea.

Ireland, as an island nation, is situated in close proximity to the busy sea lanes to and from the Continent. Recent incidents off the south and southwest coast, where ships have taken shelter in stormy weather, have pinpointed the need for stricter monitoring of ships and their cargoes. While the safety of life at sea will always be of paramount importance there is also the need for keen observation of shipping traffic in our coastal waters. That was one of the reasons I was so insistent when the Sea Pollution Act, 1991, which was passed by this House last year, was being discussed.

I have always held the view that ships entering our waters or off our coasts, even though they may not be coming into any Irish port, should be obligated to notify the Department of the Marine and the relevant local authority what cargo they are transporting. While the motion before the Dáil today is specific regarding oil pollution, it is also important that all cargoes passing through our waters should be monitored.

Oil in its various forms is the largest single commodity to be transported worldwide and very often huge profits can be made while a cargo is in transit. I have no doubt that the stakes are high. Extraordinary pressure can be put on masters and skippers of vessels for a speedy delivery and a fast turn-around [1008] and while reputable shipping lines will not take risks, nevertheless, there is a human factor and one error, whether it be mechanical or human, can have catastrophic repercussions. We in Ireland have, thankfully, escaped major spillage or pollution, even though we have suffered in the past. When one takes into consideration the magnitude of the spillage 25 years ago of the Torrey Canyon, the Amoco Cadiz, the Exxon Valdez, or the Khareg Five, then we have been fortunate indeed.

The Taoiseach's recent statement that he wishes to have progress made in the development of Whitegate refinery and Whiddy Oil Terminal brings into focus the urgency of the motion before us and the urgency to take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard the seas around our coast.

I have indicated at the outset the importance of marine as a job-creating and wealth-producing natural resource. We have a thriving shell fish industry which unfortunately will be damaged through cut-backs in Bord Iascaigh Mhara grant funding, but that is an argument for another day. It is an industry that is very vulnerable to any type of pollution, whether it be sewage or oil. The shell fish industry has a massive potential for export to continental Europe.

We have a huge tourist industry with clean and pollution-free beaches — a major selling point with tourist interests. As an elected representative from Cork, I am aware of the damage that could happen in the event of an oil spillage off our southern coast. While all of our 3,000 miles of coastline are vulnerable, the east coast with its huge volume of traffic in the Irish Sea and the southern coastline with its busy transatlantic sea lanes are particularly vulnerable.

Modern technology in curbing oil spills has made great strides in recent years with special chemical dispersants and booms available at short notice, but the fact remains that under certain weather conditions these methods of containing oil pollution may be inadequate. For instance, in the ill fated Betelgeuse disaster [1009] at Bantry, in what was considered a relatively minor spillage by international standards, 60 miles of coastline was chronically polluted by this wrecked tanker. Marine life, birds and beaches were damaged. The possibility of a major spillage is too horrible to contemplate.

The transport of crude oil is a necessity for modern economies. Countries like ours depend on oil to survive and while huge profits can be made from its drilling and transportation, there is also side by side with the profit-making, a grave responsibility on multinationals to make sure that these volatile cargoes are governed by the strictest legislation and safety measures. It has now become a matter of serious concern that some of the tankers that travel our sea lanes may have a question mark over their seaworthiness due to their age and condition, and there is now more than ever a need for this country to be a party to the agreement that is before the House today.

These very large crude carriers which ply their trade around the world, carry with them the high risk of pollution. These carriers with their cargoes of crude very often face into the severest storms across our seas and oceans. Very often their course takes them through busy sea lanes close to our coastlines.

While we have no control over the elements, there is an obligation on ship owners and oil companies to ensure that all their tankers meet the highest standards of maintenance safety and seaworthiness in their structure and crewing.

While it is necessary to be a party to such an agreement, let us hope and pray that we never have to invoke it.

Mr. Lyons: Ar an gcéad dul síos, cuidím leis an run atá os comhair an Tí. Chomh maith leis sin, déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire gur toghadh é do Roinn na Mara, agus ní aontaím in aon chor leis na ráitis atá déanta ag daoine gur ísliú é a cheapachán do Roinn na Mara ón Roinn Talmhaíochta agus Bí.

I support the motion before the House and congratulate Deputy Michael Woods on his appointment as Minister for the [1010] Marine. I agree with my colleague from Cork that it is not correct for iriseoirí — journalists — and commentators to indicate that the appointment of Deputy Michael Woods as Minister for the Marine is a downgrading from his tenure in agriculture. I agree also with our Cork colleague on the RTE programme “Seascapes”, which we have the privilege of listening to while on the road every Thursday night going home. He elaborated that point last Thursday night. I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan. I too was listening to the programme. I condemn unreservedly the attitude being fed to the public, creating a perception that Marine is not important to an island nation like Ireland.

When we came into Government in 1987 I had had the privilege of being on the front bench in Opposition for the years preceeding. We had identified the importance of the marine to us as an island nation and we appointed a Cabinet member as Minister for the Marine. Members of the House will recall that the allocation of marine activities was previously tied in with something else. We realised the importance of marine activities for our country. We recognised the need to promote and develop mariculture, aquaculture and all marine-related activities as areas where jobs could be created. We saw it then and we continue to see it as one of the areas for job potential. I will not be convinced that the Department of the Marine is a Department of lesser importance than any other Department. In fact I have no hesitation in saying that in the case of Deputy Woods, what was Agriculture's loss is Marine's gain.

I must emphasise the amount of money we have received from Structural Funds, operational fund programmes and, because of our peripherality, the new programme of funding know as Cohesive Funds. Some of this money has been utilised in the huge drive we have made in regard to tourism over the last three or four years. That investment could be diminished, undermined and even wiped out in many cases by oil pollution or any other kind of pollution. I would like to [1011] give some examples of the spending of funds to clean up our waters. Not to be too parochial, I would refer to water quality in Dublin Bay. In the southern area of Dublin Bay there has been a marked improvement in the quality of the water. That arose from the completion earlier this year of facilities for the pumping of sewage from Dún Laoghaire to the Ringsend treatment plan at a cost of £13.2 million.

Water quality on Irish beaches is monitored by local authorities at 64 Irish beaches. The result of the annual monitoring shows an excellent compliance with the quality standards under EC directives. The high quality of our water, supported by independent assessments made under the European blue flag scheme, can be gauged from the fact that the number of blue flags awarded to Irish beaches increased steadily from 22 in 1987 to 66 in 1991. Thirty nine of these 66 beaches also won the “Silver Starfish” award for outstanding water quality. This is an award to beaches which do not breach any other very stringent guideline values for the bacteriological parameters in the directive. Water quality at bathing areas will benefit from the proposed investment of up to £400 million by the year 2000 on eliminating untreated discharges of sewage from major coastal towns. Local authorities are reviewing the scope of application of the directive on bathing water quality. We must, therefore, legislate, introduce protocol and any other necessary measures, for example, fines, compensation, to act as deterrents to pollution. After all, prevention is better than cure.

Ireland, due to its geographical location and proximity to international shipping lanes, is very exposed to risks posed by passing ships. Our location on the western edge of Europe renders us a very attractive area of refuge for vessels encountering difficulties in the northeastern Atlantic. Statio bene fide carinis is a description we apply to one such port in Cork and it could be applied all around the coast but particularly in the south west.

[1012] A number of factors determine the pollution risk associated with a particular marine casualty. First, the type of ship involved can vary considerably and could include passenger vessels, oil and chemical tankers, bulk carriers, general cargo vessels, specialist ships, fishing vessels, tugs and so on. Second, the type of casualty can vary to include fire, collision, grounding, capsizing, flooding, listing, sinking and loss of steering. Third, the amount and type of oil being carried can vary. Obviously, it depends on the size of the vessel, whether the oil is carried as fuel or cargo and these can vary considerably in toxicity and behaviour in the marine environment.

The quantity of oil spilled will determine to a significant extent, but not entirely, the impact which will be sustained by the marine environment. Small spills of fuel oil in sensitive or vulnerable locations can cause more ecological damage than larger spills of crude oil in the open sea. Even a minor amount of oil leaking into a sensitive environment can cause major damage.

Oil spillages have had an adverse effect on the immediate environment. The coastline and beaches if coated with oil, will deter tourists from visiting the area. Local mariculture industries may be severely affected. Fishing may also have to cease in the area whilst oil is present. Confidence in the marketplace for fish produce will be severely dented and may lead to loss of market share in the longer term. Boats, equipment, piers, slipways and walls will all be adversely affected. Fish and wild life suffer greatly in some spillages and high mortality rates often occur.

The Torrey Canyon incident has been cited as the greatest example of the adverse effect of pollution. That incident on the French coast in 1967 prompted a review of the Irish response capability in the case of oil pollution incidents. This review was co-ordinated by the Department of the Environment and the result was the formation of the pollution liaison committee and a pollution operations group. The function of the former was to co-ordinate the interests of various [1013] Government Departments and harbour authorities. The operations group was expected to deal with the incident at a local or on-scene level and was chaired by a representative of the Department of the Environment.

The Department of the Marine took over responsibility for pollution response some years ago and established a small maritime emergency response team which would co-ordinate the overall response to a marine casualty. This latter group consisted of a senior administrative officer and technical personnel within the Department and could call on the specialist advice from other Departments or services as required.

In 1988, the Government established a committee to review the response arrangements for search and rescue at sea and around our coast. The report of this committee — known as the Doherty report — recommended that a new division be established within the Department of the Marine to plan for and co-ordinate the response to search and rescue, marine casualties and pollution incidents. The division, known as the Irish Marine Emergency Service — already referred to by an tAire as Slánú — has been established. In the case of a major pollution incident, the marine emergency response team is mobilised by the director of Slánú. The team initiate and control the response at local level and operate in liaison with Slánú.

Each member of the team has a different area of expertise, for example, oil and its various properties, ship construction, ship salvage, coastal clean-up, boom deployment, insurance-legal requirements, monitoring of expenditure and so on. As stated, expertise can be obtained from other Departments when required. The EC has a response team available to assist in any of these areas. During the debate on the motion mention was made of some of the incidents that caused pollution in recent years. For example, we had the Betelgeuse in 1979; the Kowloon Bridge in 1986; the Tribulus in 1990 and the Capitaine Pleven II in 1991. It is no harm to remind the House that the Betelgeuse [1014] exploded at the Whiddy jetty, killing 51 people and spewed over 20,000 tonnes of crude oil into Bantry Bay. This severely impacted on all the areas between Castletownbere, Glengarriff, Bantry and Sheeps Head. The oil clean-up took almost one-and-a-half years to complete at a cost of £350,000.

The Kowloon Bridge, a large cargo vessel, was forced to seek shelter in Bantry Bay having suffered damage during storms at sea. She left Bantry Bay during a severe gale to avoid collision with another damaged ship in the bay — the Capo Emma, carrying 80,000 tonnes of crude oil. She was later abandoned off the south west coast and crashed onto the Stagg Rocks. Her fuel oil damaged areas between Barley Cove and Cork Harbour. The clean-up lasted seven months at a cost to the local authority of more than £750,000. Fortunately, the clean-up was completed in May ahead of the main tourist season. Had it not, the impact on tourism in west Cork could have been very serious. The Kowloon Bridge claim is a continuing subject of litigation.

The Tribulus, a bulk carrier, operated by Shell Tankers UK Limited, sought shelter in Bantry Bay having been damaged during storms at sea. She was leaking fuel oil from her damaged hull. It took more than one week to stop the flow due to the extremely severe weather. This caused damage to parts of the coastline and took two months approximately to clean up at a total cost of £90,000. The local authority were compensated 100 per cent by Shell tankers UK Limited. Damage was also caused to the mariculture industry in the bay — mussel lines and floats. The operators were compensated by Shell Tankers UK Limited. The Tribulus left Bantry Bay after 91 days having been the subject of the largest underwater repair job ever carried out at sea.

The Capitaine Pleven II was a large fish factory vessel which had entered Galway Bay in darkness to land an injured seaman. She grounded on a rock and her crew of 60 were airlifted to safety. She carried approximately 500 tonnes of gas oil as well as lubricating and hydraulic [1015] oils. The major consideration was the protection of the large oyster and mussel fisheries in the bay. Some slight damage was caused to a small section of the fishery by the escaping oil.

There were other near misses which are worthy of comment. These include the Capo Emma, which was carrying 80,000 tonnes of crude oil, and sought refuge in Bantry Bay having suffered structural damage. The entire 80,000 tonnes of oil was successfully transferred to another vessel in the bay. The Hellesport Courage, carrying 80,000 tonnes of crude oil, drifted to within four miles of Aran Island off Donegal in gale force ten conditions before steerage was restored. Had she grounded, the consequences for the north-west coast could have been very serious. The Yarrawonga, an 85,000 tonnes deadweight bulk carrier, was abandoned in the mid-Atlantic as a result of serious structural damage and came within 95 miles of the Galway coast before a tug took her under tow.

As the House can see, we have had our fair share of incidents and near misses. The Minister and my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, have referred to the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in March 1989 which caused extensive damage to marine life and fisheries.

Legislative measures to prevent pollution include the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Seas by Oil, 1954, known as OILPOL, which was superseded by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, and by its protocol of 1978, MARPOL 73/78. Between 1973 and 1980 the European Community adopted 15 legislative texts on water pollution. Nationally, the OILPOL Convention of 1954 was implemented following the passage of the Oil Pollution of the Sea Act, 1956, which was amended in 1965 and 1977. The Continental Shelf Act, 1968, extended the provisions of section 10 of the 1956 Oil Pollution of the Sea Act to cover pipelines and rigs, while the Sea Pollution Bill, 1990, repeats the Acts of 1956 and [1016] 1977. The main purpose of that Bill is to ratify the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of pollution from Ships, to accede to the 1978 MARPOL protocol and, most importantly, to accede to the protocol relating to the Intervention Convention 1973.

Ireland has failed to ratify some conventions dealing with liability which I have not time to mention. Indeed, the Oil Pollution of the Sea, (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act, 1988, has not yet been enacted. The oil industry has responded by setting up two voluntary funds, one of which is administered by the tanker owners and the other by the major oil companies owning the oil in any potential spillage. These funds are known as TOVALOP and CRISTAL which have been referred to already. The Minister has outlined how these two schemes work. Suffice it to say that TOVALOP is administered from London by International Tank Owners Pollution Federation Limited. Parties to the scheme bind themselves for short periods to pay pollution claims for damage, clean up costs and “threat removal measures”. CRISTAL is administered on behalf of the cargo owners by the Oil Companies Institute for Marine Pollution Compensation Limited. Interestingly, total compensation received to date by Irish authorities has come from TOVALOP. The 1988 Act and the 1990 Bill when enacted will undoubtedly make life easier for those engaged in combating pollution.

Mr. Gilmore: I join with previous speakers in welcoming the motion before the House today. It adds another instrument to the means at our disposal in tackling sea pollution. I would have to agree with the point made about the length of time it has taken us to address this measure. It is a rather straightforward and non-contentious motion and was first placed on the Order Paper almost four years ago in 1988. There is a need therefore for the Dáil to address urgently the manner in which it does its business so that measures of this kind do [1017] not end up lying on the Order Paper for four years before being addressed.

The second point that should be made in relation to the length of time it has taken us to address this issue is that the Civil Liability Convention was adopted in 1975 while the Fund Convention was adopted in 1978. Seventeen years later we, an island nation which is so dependent on and exposed to the sea and the danger of pollution, in particular oil pollution at sea, are adopting this motion to ratify these conventions which deal with a relatively straightforward matter, the question of insurance for oil tankers and the danger of pollution.

It should be said that this reflects a poor attitude in this country towards these because this is not the only occasion it has taken us so long to approve and ratify an international convention. Only recently we passed the necessary legislation to enable this country ratify the MARPOL Convention. In fairness, it has to be said that since their establishment Roinn na Mara have done tremendous work in bringing our legislation up to date in relation to ratifying international conventions and taking our responsibility towards the sea more seriously. It is probably fair to say that the absence of a specific Department to deal with marine affairs during the years is one of the reasons this country has been so slow in adopting international conventions and taking its responsibilities more seriously. I am glad that the position is now being rectified and that legislation is now being put in place while motions are being brought before this House to seek its approval for various international conventions. We are finally bringing our legislation up to date with regard to our international responsibilities in relation to the management and protection of the seas.

These conventions, motions and measures are by their nature very complicated. It is difficult to keep abreast of the array of initials of the different conventions and different bodies responsible for administering them. Indeed, one would probably need to have a ready reckoner to refer to occasionally in trying [1018] to find out which body are responsible for administering which convention.

The public are concerned about the need for protection for our seas and coastline against pollution. As I have said, legislation has been introduced to deal with it. This includes the Sea Pollution Bill to ratify the MARPOL Convention and this measure to ratify this convention. Earlier the Minister referred to the establishment of Slánú and during the past week he announced that he would be willing to publish the reports of inquiries carried out by his Department, which I very much welcome. It would be useful if Roinn na Mara produced a booklet which would explain in layman's language the measures in place, the international conventions and the state of play in regard to international agreement on protection of the sea: to what extent has this country adopted those international conventions?; what is our policy in relation to the protection of the sea internationally?; and what various conferences and bodies exist? We know about the North Sea Conference, the move towards the establishment of an Irish Sea Conference or a co-ordinating group in relation to the Irish Sea. It would be helpful if there was a publication which would explain to the public the international efforts being made to protect our seas, the efforts being made at European level to protect our seas, the extent to which our country is contributing to that, to what extent we have adopted conventions and so on and what the public can expect when something untoward happens. If the public see a report in a newspaper or hear on television and radio that a ship has run into difficulties somewhere off our coast, what can they expect with regard to the response from the Department of the Marine and the emergency services? It would be useful if something of that kind was put in place.

I want to speak specifically about the Minister's reference to the Kowloon Bridge. He made the point that even if the conventions had been in place they would not have been able to address the problems which arose as a result of that [1019] accident. However, there is an aspect to which he did not refer — perhaps he will in his reply — which relates to the state of play regarding the legal action which the Government are taking against the various owners of the Kowloon Bridge and its operators. It is over five years since the Kowloon Bridge tragedy occurred; pervious speakers referred to the extent of pollution resulting from it. Following that, the Government decided to take legal action to be awarded £1.7 million to cover the cost of the damage and clean-up operation resulting from it. On previous occasions I asked the Minister's predecessor about the legal action taken. I understand that it is the convention of the House that one does not get into details of the case concerned because it is before the courts — and I would not wish to do so — so I do not intend to comment on the case itself. However, I should like the Minister to let us know how the case is progressing because, as I said, it is five years since the tragedy. The last occasion I raised this matter in the House was on 10 December 1991, and when I pressed the Minister's predecessor in regard to legal action he quoted Shakespeare in reply. He said that it was “the law's delay” and not “the insolence of office” which was the cause of the five years' delay in bringing this matter to a conclusion. Beyond quoting Shakespeare, the Minister's predecessor did not have a lot to offer in regard to it and I should like to know if the present Minister knows more about the fate of the legal action. Perhaps he will address this matter when he is replying.

From what the Minister said it is interesting to note that the motion before the House would not have been able to address the Kowloon Bridge problem because the convention we are now being asked to adopt is quite limited in its scope. As has already been pointed out, it is limited to vessels which contain large quantities of oil as a cargo, as I understand it, to cases over 2,000 tonnes. The level of insurance for which these conventions provide is limited and the circumstances in which the conventions can [1020] be brought into effect are also limited. For example, it is interesting to note that spillages resulting from acts of war are excluded from the convention. That is very unfortunate — and wrong — considering what happened in the Gulf as a result of the war there 12 months ago. We have all seen on television the appalling extent of oil pollution in the Gulf area and perhaps it would make those states, who are so quick to go to war with each other, a bit more cautious if international conventions did not exempt damage, spillage and pollution resulting from acts of war.

Previous speakers mentioned the Exxon Valdez, Torrey Canyon, the Betelgeuse and so on. The biggest extent of oil pollution in recent times has been the pollution in the Gulf as a result of the war. This pollution was not the result of an accident or because a ship foundered on a rock, but the deliberate action of Governments going to war and, in the process, not only destroying life but polluting land and sea. When there are references to conventions being addressed, their scope being extended and further conferences being held, this State should pursue the inclusion of pollution resulting from acts of war in future international conventions.

It is clear that the present conventions are confined to the economic impact of oil pollution. I know that the Sea Pollution Act, which we addressed in this House some time ago, concentrates more on the environmental impact. These conventions first came into being as a result of the Torrey Canyon disaster and the thinking behind them is probably 20 years behind the times. The thinking was also in relation to the economic aspect and the financial cost of clean-up. They have not taken sufficient account of the environmental impact.

The other point I should like to make in relation to these conventions is that they deal with the after-effects of an oil spillage. It is a case, I suppose, of crying over spilt oil. There is a need for international conventions to concentrate more on preventing spillages of oil and pollution. I know that the IMO expressed [1021] that concern previously and speakers referred to the standards and designs of vesels. They have expressed a concern that many of the vessels plying international waters are of a poor standard and, specifically, that many vessels are under-crewed and in many cases the crews are under-trained and underpaid. A practice has now grown up in what is known as the developed world that in order to avoid paying trade union negotiated wages and conditions for seamen, the owners and operators of vessels are avoiding their obligations by chartering vessels in third countries, flying them under flags of convenience, paying very low wages and applying very poor conditions of employment to the seamen who operate the vessels.

If ever there was a case for an international convention, I believe there is now a case for one which would address specifically the working conditions, wages, standards and training of seamen. It is clear the wages and conditions of seamen can no longer be adequately regulated simply by collective agreements between seamen's unions and the owners and operators of ships. Neither can they be regulated purely on the basis of national legislation. There is an urgent need to address that and for some kind of international convention which would deal with employment conditions, rates of pay and so on. Important though it is, it is not just a question of the working conditions and rates of pay which apply to seamen; it also has implications for the very issue we are discussing here, that is, pollution. If we end up with under-paid, over-worked and under-trained crews on ships then we increase the possibility of accidents and pollution occurring. This aspect has to be taken into account.

I agree with the points made by previous speakers in regard to the Minister's status. Since being elected a Member of this House, on every occasion open to me I have asked the Minister for the Marine to address the position of the former employees of Irish Shipping. The one long outstanding issue in the Minister's Department which needs to be resolved is the position of the former [1022] employees of Irish Shipping. I ask him to address this issue as a matter of urgency and try to bring some remedy and relief to those long suffering people who have not yet been paid an adequate level of compensation, having lost their employment as a result of the liquidation of Irish Shipping eight years ago this year.

Mr. Garland: On behalf of the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, I should like to add to Deputy Gilmore's comments about the disgraceful manner in which the former employees of Irish Shipping have been treated. I appeal to the Minister to take this matter on board and try to do something for these unfortunate people, many of whom gave a lifetime of service to this company.

The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, agree with the motion to approve the terms of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution. However, I would point out that there appears to have been an undue delay in bringing this fairly simple matter to a conclusion in that the convention incorporates protocols dating from 1969-76. The Minister has not given an adequate explanation for this delay. We seem to carry on our business in a very casual way. This is not the first time during my two and a half years as a Member of this House that I have had to refer to this matter. This reflects very badly not just on this Government but on successive Governments.

As a maritime nation, oil pollution is a particular problem for Ireland. It is absolutely vital that international control of oil spillages be strengthened as far as possible. The convention deals merely with the civil liability aspects of this problem, a vitally important area. It is essential that this country should be in a position to obtain adequate compensation for oil spills which are usually the responsibility of other countries. Insurers have a particular obligation in this area in the way they write their policies. Owing to intense competition in the marine insurance market over the past few years insurance companies have been increasingly lax in the type of cover they [1023] offer. This, of course, encourages a careless and slip-shod attitude by tanker owners. The notorious Exxon Valdez accident showed gross carelessness on the part of the skipper of the ship. This also reflected badly on the company. In spite of this gross carelessness the insurance company paid up — presumably they had to under the terms of the policy — and the skipper got off very lightly. We have very little control over the conduct of the international marine insurance industry but perhaps this could be looked at at international level.

The Minister referred to the meeting of the IMO's marine environment protection committee. I trust the Minister will press very strongly for higher standards of tanker construction because, even with the best will in the world, tankers will run up on rocks and accidents will happen. If a tanker is soundly built then naturally the risk of an oil spill will be reduced.

We must get beyond the concept whereby ship owners balance the cost of insurance against the cost of construction. In other words, tankers should be built to the highest possible specifications even though this may not be strictly viable in a commercial sense. The world's marine resources are far too precious to be sacrificed on the altar of narrow commercial advantage. The maximisation of profits must never become the sole criteria in areas where there is a risk of serious pollution.

I should like to remind the House that humans have a responsibility to care for the animals and plants which reside with us on this planet. The appalling cruelty to sea birds caused by oil pollution is a sickening example of our neglect in this area. Many Members will remember the appalling pictures of the death of sea birds from oil pollution during the Gulf War. Large sea mammals such as seals, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles, and so on are also affected by oil pollution of the sea. The entire marine breeding and feeding environment can be destroyed for generations by a large oil spillage. [1024] No amount of financial compensation can bring the environment back to what it was before a spillage, but large financial compensation can alleviate in some small way the horrendous effects of oil pollution.

I wish to refer to the impact of oil spillages on our tourism trade. In many ways we can sell the concept of clean air, clean water and clean beaches. We have not a lot to offer in this country. We cannot offer cheap beer and unlimited sunshine. We should take every possible precaution both at national and international levels to protect our beaches from oil spillage because they are a precious resource. I am sure the Minister will make every effort in this direction.

Minister for the Marine (Dr. Woods): I would like to thank Deputies for their contributions on what are two very important conventions. I accept the point made by Deputies that we want to get these conventions before the House as soon as possible and have them dealt with speedily. I hope to bring a number of other matters before the House in the near future and that I will have the co-operation of Members in giving them a speedy passage. I welcome the fact that a constructive approach has been taken to matters such as these which are so vital to our national interest.

Deputies will know that accession to these two major international conventions gives Ireland extra insurance in the event of a major maritime oil spillage. The total insurance in money terms under these conventions is £51 million. The top-up arrangment enables the funding to be substantially increased from approximately £12 million to £51 million. Ireland is in a particularly vulnerable situation at the apex of one of the busiest ocean trading routes in the world. We are very fortunate in Ireland not to have experienced any enormous disaster but it is something that is waiting to happen.

Deputies have stressed that quite a number of ocean going tankers are old [1025] and that there is a question mark over their safety and security in the event of a collision, bad storms or accidents. As I have said, the IMO are taking this matter very seriously. They are taking measures to ensure that new tankers are constructed much more safely. There is also the question of the older tankers. Perhaps it is time some of the oldest tankers were taken out of operation. This is a matter that we would approach collectively within the EC. There are many old tankers in use at present and certainly it is time that some of them were taken out of operation, given the danger of pollution to maritime resources not only in this country but in many other countries.

These conventions deal with compensation. It is particularly important that adequate compensation be available and that measures are ready to be put into action very quickly. In our case the services are available to respond immediately but they need to know from day one that adequate money is available. If that support is there the marine pollution response team working under Slánú need not be concerned about cost. They will be able to tackle the job in the most effective and most technical way possible; they will be free to take all the action they feel necessary and desirable and payments will be made much more quickly.

Several Deputies said that prevention is the best course. The IMO are very concerned about the provision of new designs and the ageing of the tanker fleet. This certainly needs security. I thank the Deputies for their support for this motion and for the recognition of the work done by the Department of the Marine in the interim. I assure Deputies that that work will continue, and with the co-operation of the House I hope it will be possible to speed up the rate of achievement in this area.

A question was asked about low cost crewing. The EC is currently addressing this problem through the proposals for a Community register called EUROS. This [1026] is a matter of which we and our Community colleagues are aware and which is being addressed currently. Several questions were asked about the Kowloon Bridge. That case is at present in the High Court and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to make a statement on it. It has taken a long time to get to this stage because there was a difficulty in locating the shipowner who is in Hong Kong. However that difficulty has been resolved and progress is being made. I assure Deputies that we are following up the case regularly and are in fortnightly communication with our legal advisers on the developments.

The question was raised about the provision of a ready reckoner. I favour the production of fact sheets, and we operated this system in the Department of Social Welfare and also in the Department of Agriculture and Food. Fact sheets are particularly valuable in bringing together basic information in a simple way which is easily communicated. Last week I made arrangements for the operation of this system and Deputies can expect that we will be approaching matters in this way. I accept the general comment that, especially in the case of conventions, the people technically involved are in the habit of using abbreviated terms which can be quite confusing, particularly when dealing with international relations. We will consider that matter specifically.

Deputy O'Sullivan was concerned about ships with other cargoes. That matter is being examined by the IMO at present. The 1991 Act gives new powers to the Minister for the Marine in relation to specific ships identified in advance of entering our waters. The more global power exercised through the IMO will be particularly important in this regard.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. The measures we are taking today will have a major impact on ensuring the cleanness and the safety of our seas and coastline. We have had some [1027] bad experiences in the past. We are in a very vulnerable position and we are fortunate we did not have worse experiences than have occurred to date. I agree with what has been said about the importance of prevention. The measures being dealt with by the House today will be [1028] followed up immediately by my Department and once in operation will be very beneficial to Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at 1 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 March 1992.