Seanad Éireann - Volume 130 - 31 October, 1991

Sea Pollution Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed.)

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Farrell: Pollution on our beaches is a major problem. When waste is disposed of at sea it often flows on to our shores, particularly if it is in the form of plastic bags or bottles. I sometimes think that these plastic substances should be abolished because they are our greatest source of pollution at present. Plastic may be handy for wrapping things in but it causes pollution and there seems to be no way of disposing of it. If one burns it, it becomes a toxic problem and if buried it never rots. We should consider whether the substance should be on the market at all. Is it worth its usefulness given the pollution it causes? There was a lot to be said for wrapping everything in natural products like paper and glass which could be got rid of without causing pollution.

On our part of the west coast we do not have a great problem with beach pollution. I believe my own county with about 70 miles of coastline has three blue flags and two starfish awards. The starfish award is not talked about enough; starfish will live only in water that is 100 per cent clean and clear which we have on the west coast. We are very pleased with that.

I would also like to congratulate the Government and the Minister on the action plan which they intend to have fully implemented by 1992 concerning proper disposal services for all the major towns. In 1992 all those plants will be completely modernised and all sewage will be properly treated and purified before being disposed of. That is a great step forward.

It is important in this Bill that we talk about fines for ships but we know that many of those ship operators sometimes only hire the boat and a crew at a cheap rate. Regarding one pollution case in the south of Ireland I wonder if the local [380] authority or the Government were ever compensated for the cost of cleaning up an oil spillage. Some international law should ensure that every ship going to sea be bonded to cover the maximum fine in the event of a spillage; it is all very fine trying to levy ships but if they do not have the money to pay the fine what can be done? If they are men of straw, which in many cases they are, just as a car owner has to have insurance to cover all situations that might arise, a bond should be imposed so that if ships cause a problem there will be money there to pay and instead of pursuing individuals in the shipping business it will be possible to pursue their bond holder or insurance broker or company.

We already have Acts which govern oil pollution. We all know that as the world becomes more industrialised more dangerous substances are being carried at sea and we must take cognisance of current trends in the shipping industry namely the marked increase in the size of ships and in particular of oil tankers. Those huge oil tankers should be able to pay if they cause a problem; they have the money but there may be many ships carrying dangerous substances that may not be in a position to pay fines and we would have nobody to pursue in the event of a spillage. Section 10 allows the Minister to prohibit or regulate the operational discharge at sea of oil, oil mixtures, obnoxious liquid substances carried in bulk, for example, hazardous chemicals, hazardous substances carried in package form, sewage or garbage. The territorial water boundary is only a 12 mile limit and we should have legislation that would cover areas beyond that. Twelve miles is a very short distance. If pollution occurs 13 miles out it will cause great spillage damage and a ship-owner could escape prosecution because the ship was outside that limit. The pollution would flow in nevertheless and we will have to ensure that ships outside our limit or ships limping into our harbours may be dealt with under legislation if we become victims of pollution fallout.

Section 26 allows the Minister following a maritime casualty to take such [381] measures as he considers necessary to prevent, mitigate or eliminate grave and imminent danger to the coastline, or related interests, for example, fisheries activities or tourist attractions from pollution or a threat of pollution. The Minister is entitled to recover the expenses incurred in such intervention from the owner of the ship. I would like to see some insurance bond or warrant being introduced. People running those ships often hire them from nameless companies and one could travel around the world to trying to find out the identity of the ship-owner. Very often they employ crews of cheap labour from Third World countries who are not officially recognised. A boat could be in bad repair and if there is an accident and the crew get off safely, that is welcome, but we will have to tighten up our regulations to claim against these people. It is no good having £10 million fines or prison sentences of five years or both on conviction or indictment if the prisoner has no money to pay up. It will cost the country money to keep these people in prison and we may not be able to get any money out of them.

It is important if this legislation is to work satisfactorily that an insurance bond be insisted upon. Ships pose more of a danger to human life ultimately, than the motorist or truck driver who must carry adequate insurance to cover all eventualities. Now that pollution has been identified as a grave problem, the onus should be on the ship-owner to carry insurance so that fines can be paid.

Attention has been focused on the threat to fish stocks by oil discharge and by other forms of garbage, such as plastics, synthetic ropes and nets. We know from our own fishermen that nets are frequently lost in storms. Nowadays nets and ropes are made of non-biodegradable material such as plastic or nylon which in large quantities can cause trouble to other ships by getting caught in rudders, etc. I do not know how we might monitor losses of nets and ropes but a monitoring system would be useful particularly after storms; it would be of service to fishermen also if some nets and [382] ropes could be recovered. Such losses of equipment cost fishermen a lot of money but they do not have boats large enough to track them down.

Loss of ropes and nets therefore, cause pollution and constitute a danger to shipping. I would like to see this matter addressed by the Sea Pollution Bill. Otherwise I am delighted with the Bill. It complements previous action taken by the Government in relation to the environment. Over the last quarter of a century we seem to have let our environment deteriorate seriously but I am pleased that that trend has recently been reversed not least by greater public awareness. Every town and village has an air of cleanliness about it and people are beginning to recognise that rubbish and pollutants should not be tolerated, but disposed of in a proper manner.

Under the provisions of this Bill a ship coming into harbour can be checked but will it be the harbour authority or the local authority who will ensure that the job is done? We may need legislation to establish where pollutants will be disposed of when ships have been cleaned out and if it is the responsibility of the harbour or local authority. Disposal of noxious substances may be very difficult; it is already impossible to dump ordinary domestic refuse anywhere around the country.

Many people talk about toxic waste but many of the same people drive a car that does not use unleaded petrol nor do they instal convertors. They may generate more toxic waste than a factory giving employment and subject to some pollution control. It is time we established what toxic waste is; cigarette smoke is described now as toxic and the word is being used indiscriminately. We know there is nothing more poisonous than the fumes of a car and instead of bandying about with this, the Minister should introduce some means of measuring toxicity. We need a monitoring system to provide us with regular readings of the levels of toxic substances being disposed of. I would like to see these suggestions taken up, otherwise I wish the Bill free passage through the House. Waste disposal at sea [383] creates problems for our shorelines, for our fishing industry and for our tourism industry, especially for water sports. If tourist attractions are threatened many people's livelihoods will be jeopardised, together with our natural environment.

Mr. Kennedy: Is mian liomsa fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo, an Bille um Thruailliú na Farraige, 1990. Is é cuspóir an Bhille seo ná truailliú na farraige le hola agus le substaintí eile a chosc, éifeacht a thabhairt don Choinbhinsin Idirnáisiúnta chun truailliú na farraige ó longa a chosc agus éifeacht a thabhairt don phrotocol a bhaineann le hidirghabháil ar an mórmhuir i gcás substaintí seachas ola.

As members of an island community most of us visit our shores during the year and the too frequent presence of oil and other pollutants is a factor we could do without. Public awareness of the problems resulting from oil spillages and sea pollution has grown rapidly in recent years. This awareness has unfortunately and regrettably been generated by several tragic experiences. Public representatives need no reminding of the stranding of the Torrey Canyon in 1967 or the stranding of the Amoco Cadiz in 1978. These tragedies give us vivid warning of the possibility of environmental disasters which have to be guarded against.

The first requirement, therefore, is to tighten up on preventive measures at national and international level so that such tragedies do not occur again. Shipwrecks have always posed dangers but the consequences now are far worse in a world that lives on oil.

The cost of cleaning up pollution is also very considerable. In the case of the Amoco Cadiz it cost £54 million in 1978 to clear the pollution from that disaster. Surely prevention is better than cure and it is reasonable to ask ourselves to what extent we can prevent strandings and spillages by means of legislation and international conventions. Sensible international conventions and sound domestic [384] legislation as is contained in this Bill should be welcomed by all.

International conventions and domestic legislation have an important part to play in maintaining safety at sea, in reducing the risks of accidents and the incidence of sea pollution; protection from pollution by ships is vital. This has to be done on an international and global basis and this Bill gives effect to such an international convention and the related protocols. Lingering doubts arise, however, as to how international conventions and protocols are to be enforced and this is the vital issue.

I welcome this Bill as a measure which attempts to regulate, control and eliminate the pollution of our seas and oceans. Our awareness of the magnitude of marine pollution and the scope of the problem must be matched by the realisation that a country such as ours cannot solve all coastal pollution problems through national action and measures alone. Regional and international co-operation is necessary to deal effectively with sea pollution. There is a strong case for a European Community initiative to establish a European coastwatch on the lines of the French coastguard patrol service, so that coasts all round the European Community can be protected and the arrangements provided for in MARPOL and in this Bill properly implemented.

The main purpose of this Bill as indicated in its Long Title is to enable this country to make provision to prevent pollution of the sea by oil and other substances, to give effect to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships of 1973 as amended by the Protocol of 1978 and to give effect to the Protocol relating to Intervention on the High Seas in cases of Marine Pollution by Substances other than Oil. The International Convention of 1973 as modified by its Protocol of 1978 is known worldwide, as the Minister previously indicated, as MARPOL 73/78.

The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill goes on to say:

[385] The main objective of MARPOL is to reduce to a minimum, and in certain cases prohibit, the operational discharge of marine pollutants from ships through the establishment of operational discharge criteria and procedures and construction and equipment standards. In addition, ship design features are prescribed to minimise the outflow of oil in the event of an accident. Provision is made for a regime whereby violations of the international rules and standards are prohibited and punished with sufficient severity to discourage future violations.

The Convention itself as indicated by the Minister in his speech to the House comprises five Annexes which govern (1) the prevention of pollution by oil, (2) the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk (3) the prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged forms or in freight containers, (4) the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships and (5) the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships. The International Convention of 1969 and its Protocol of 1973 provide that following a maritime casualty contracting parties may take such measures on the high seas that may be necessary to prevent, mitigate and eliminate grave and imminent danger to their coastlines or related interests from pollution, or threat of pollution by oil and other substances which are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities, or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the seas.

MARPOL and the Bill deal specifically with pollution from ships; the old idea that whatever you disposed of at sea would be dispersed in the big wide oceans is no longer valid. A number of examples have already been given by Members of the House of the kinds of problems arising from such careless activity. The National Academy of Science in the USA has established that each year 6.5 million tonnes of litter are dumped overboard from ships. A more recent estimate states [386] that five and a half million containers are thrown overboard from ships every day and of these 700,000 are plastic. It is no wonder, therefore, that plastic causes such havoc to marine life.

Plastics, as the Minister indicated previously, are non-biogradable and once thrown into the sea are extremely persistent and potentially harmful if ingested by seabirds and marine mammals. I, therefore, welcome the provision in the MARPOL Convention which prohibits the disposal of plastics at sea and stipulates that they must be deposited in receptables at port. I urge the Minister and the Government to provide the necessary resources and facilities for port authorities and in some cases local authorities to discharge their functions under this Bill.

Finally, I turn to the principle that the polluter pays. This principle is not expressly provided for in the Bill but it is a principle that should be accepted by the Government in relation to oil pollution at sea. Until now the oil companies have made the rules; now it is Parliament's turn. Over the years oil companies have built larger and larger tankers to provide themselves with cheap transport which makes good economic sense. However, a larger tanker is a larger pollution threat and I would like to see enshrined in this Bill the principle that the owner of the oil is the person to be made responsible when things go wrong. If the owner is made responsible he will take care to charter or purchase top quality ships. He will ensure that the qualifications of master mariners, crews and pilots employed by him are of the highest and that crews have the necessary navigational skills.

I hope this Bill will play a vital role in protecting our country's maritime environmental heritage but the real issue will be the extent to which the international community enforces agreed standards and conventions. Until it does so the risk of further accidents such as the Amoco Cadiz and the Christos Bitas will remain with us to haunt us. I welcome the main provisions of this Bill which [387] incorporate very worthwhile conventions and protocols.

Professor Conroy: The main purpose of this welcome Bill, as stated in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum is to enable the State:

(i) to ratify the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973; (ii) to accede to the Protocol of 1978 modifying that Convention; and (iii) to accede to the Protocol relating to Intervention on the High Seas in the cases of Marine Pollution by Substances other than Oil, 1973.

Such action by our Government is appropriate and I do not think any of the previous speakers have suggested that we should do other than support and welcome this Bill. There might be one or two sections we might like to see modified but, basically, we are all in favour of it.

In my own childhood, not all that long ago, when I spent time around the pier at Dún Laoghaire although one was aware at the time of many of the matters that are the subject of this Bill, none had the immense impact they have now. At that time, oil was not recognised in this country as a substantial source of power. We were still in the days of the great Shannon scheme and other hydroelectric schemes, the derivation of power from turf and so on, which made up a considerable portion of our energy base. Now, of course, oil provides about 70 per cent of our energy base. This has been repeated in far bigger economies than ours. This is the situation in three great economies — Germany, Japan and the United States. That in turn led to the enormous growth in tanker traffic carrying oil from such areas as the Middle East; other contributory factors to the growth in traffic by very large capacity oil tankers were the oil crisis of 1973 and, perhaps to an even greater extent, the closure of the Suez Canal in 1956. These huge tankers are several times larger than the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth which we think of as huge ships. [388] Yet they are dwarfed by these enormous tankers. We saw the Amoco Cadiz disaster off the French coast and the recent Alaskan disaster which show what can happen to one of these ships. Neither of the ships I mentioned was a large capacity tanker. There is an enormous pollution problem at sea but that was very hard to envisage in those early days of my childhood when I watched the mailboat coming in and leaving Dún Laoghaire.

On a more mundane basis the age of plastics, again associated with hydrocarbons, is a recent development. We take plastic very much for granted now but, not too long ago they were almost unknown. A combination of possible oil spills and the disposal of plastic garbage are two of the greatest causes of pollution.

The Irish Sea is possibly the most polluted cess pit in the world. It is polluted by chemicals, by ships' garbage and, perhaps most of all, by the deliberate disposal of chemical, noxious and toxic substances in the past and the continuing ongoing disposal of radioactive materials. This is appalling and I hope this Bill will play some very small part in beginning to alleviate that problem.

I understood that there was an agreement between the Irish Government and the United Kingdom Government that a maritime inspector would be appointed for the Irish Sea. I wonder what progress has taken place since then. Perhaps the Minister would comment on it.

Not so long ago, we used to think there was a certain amount of pollution in the sea, and there was. Along the beach at Booterstown and Killiney beach every so often things came in from the sea. In fact, it was often quite exciting for the children to walk along the high tide mark early in the morning and see what had been washed up. The situation around all our coasts today is very different. Instead, one is likely to see an oily slime discharged ultimately from some passing ship, perhaps far distant, or alternatively a bobbing mass of plastic garbage.

Even years ago there was pollution but the main cause was the sewage going into Dublin Bay. Even then the problem was [389] not so serious because there had not been the enormous increase in the population of Dún Laoghaire and surroundings which occurred in the last 15 to 20 years. An enormous improvement has taken place since the treatment plants were set up under the new, very expensive but very worthwhile sewerage schemes. We have regular counts of E-coli and various other indicator substances around the coast from the general Dún Laoghaire area — from Booterstown, Salthill, Dún Laoghaire itself, Sandycove and Killiney — and since the new works came into operation the improvement has been dramatic. Dublin Bay is being restored to the excellent state it once enjoyed.

We are concerned about the pollution of our beaches and we have many excellent beaches which were given the Blue Flag awards. I am glad to see that the number has increased between 1990 and 1991 — we now have 67 such beaches. I know one of these beaches very well — Killiney beach. This is one of the prettiest and most attractive beaches in Northern Europe. Indeed, the view from the Vico Road is sometimes compared with the view of Naples. It is a beautiful beach and well deserves is Blue Flag. If this Bill helps to ensure that the excellent quality of that beach is maintained, it is a worthwhile environmental improvement from which we and all the families and children who go to beaches in Killiney and elsewhere will benefit. We are lucky indeed. It is a disadvantage, at times, to be the only State in the European Community which is an island. There are difficulties from the point of view of communications and costs and so on, but one tremendous advantage is that we have magnificent beaches and hopefully this Bill will play a large part in helping to ensure that these beaches are not likely to be as contaminated as they otherwise might be.

Let us look at what we are really considering here in the MARPOL 73/78.

(i) the prevention of pollution by oil;

(ii) the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk;

[390] (iii) the prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged forms or in freight containers, portable tanks or road and rail tank wagons;

(iv) the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships;

(v) the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships.

All these things will prevent and alleviate the pollution which otherwise might occur to our magnificent beaches. When we go to a beach in the west of Ireland, we would consider it to be crowded if we see another person there. If we compare that with the situation in most of the United Kingdom, France or Spain, we realise we are really very lucky. It would be a shame if our beaches were polluted. A seriously contaminated beach is a most expensive operation to deal with and we are seeing that now. Some of the beaches I know myself, along the magnificent sea coast of the Gulf of Arabia, the Persian Gulf, have now been polluted not just for a mile or two but for several hundreds of miles. For all the wealth of that area and all the technological resources that are available it will be an immensely expensive task. It is a task which, in fact, they will never in all likelihood be able to complete successfully over the coming years. It will probably be some decades before the compensatory powers of nature itself, extended though they will be by this disaster, will finally begin to restore the beaches in that area to the state they were in only a few years ago.

Senator McKenna, among others, has referred to sea birds. Oil and plastic are terribly detrimental to the sea bird population. We have seen the tragic sight of these birds smothered in oil or caught in plastic. Again, anything that can reduce this, either from the point of view of the cruelty involved, or from the point of view of the beauty of the environment, is more than worthwhile. This Bill, is a major step forward in that respect.

Ireland has a huge responsibility, of course. Not only are we the only island nation in the EC but, of course, the sea [391] area which now comes within our jurisdiction is far greater than that of any other European state. This sea area is tremendously important to us already, from the point of view of fisheries, and it has great potential importance in relation to the possible mineral and hydrocarbon resources. Although far too expensive, at present day prices, to consider extracting, they are potentially there. We have the remaining large structures capable of containing substantial amounts of hydrocarbons. It is important on the one hand that we realise this fact and, secondly, that appropriate environmental measures be put in place at a very early stage rather than, perhaps, too little too late. Again we have both a responsibility and an opportunity and this Bill has a role to play.

As Senator Fitzgerald has pointed out, it is important that this Bill be accompanied by some other appropriate Bills or followed by them in due course. It is no use bringing in legislation stating, for example, that you cannot dump oil from your boat at sea if the appropriate facilities are not provided at our harbours. These are the sort of matters that we must look to. Legislation which effectively cannot be enforced or is impracticable, is not very good legislation. So one assumes that in due course secondary or follow-up legislation will accompany or succeed this Bill.

Everyone talks about oil tankers, but one of the most worrying features of the present day ship traffic is not the oil tankers. In relation to the number and voyage routes of world tankers, and the fact that they very often pass by the shores of this island, we have been very lucky indeed. There has not been, so far, a major oil disaster. Let us hope there never is. The nearest were those off the Cornish and French coasts but what has been happening over the last perhaps two to three years is that the bulk carriers have also come into use, and the maritine authorities have been very slow to face up to this situation. They came into use originally following the closure of the Suez Canal and are now a feature of sea [392] freight. There has been a very worrying rise in disasters involving these ships. They now account for something like 30 per cent of all major sea-going disasters. Many of them are quite inexplicable, huge ships, perhaps 200,000 or 300,000 tonners, sometimes disappearing without trace and without warning.

There seems to be some evidence that the actual construction of these ships, particularly those built more than 10 years ago, involves potential spreading of rust in certain vital parts of them. Under certain circumstances, if they are attempting to sail rather too rapidly into heavy seas, the strain suddenly becomes too great and there is a sudden catastrophic failure in the stress mechanisms or protective mechanisms in the ship's hull. The ship simply breaks up almost instantaneously. It is a cause of obviously great worry, from an insurance and shipping point of view, but it also has considerable significance in terms of this Bill. If one of these bulk carriers is carrying noxious materials, a very sudden rapid and severe disaster could occur which might be much more difficult to cope with than some of the potential oil pollution situations. There are aspects to navigation at sea and to ship safety.

I hope the Minister will take all possible opportunities, at EC level, to ensure that the excellent environmental legislation coming in is also accompanied by appropriate shipping legislation. There is considerable need for new and up-to-date international shipping regulations. It may seem at first that this is rather irrelevant to us. We have, unfortunately, all too small a shipping fleet. We are nonetheless in a geographical situation where a large part of the world's shipping capacity passes by our shores and our coasts and through our waters. It is of considerable importance that we play our role in ensuring there is legislation which would contribute towards the safety of these ships and reduce the likelihood of disasters at sea and severe potential pollution of our coasts.

In the modern world this is something which has to be done through international conventions and co-operation.

[393] The EC is in a particularly strong position to do this, but the legislation has to be enforced worldwide. Today, a ship may be owned by financiers in one country and registered in another; it may operate out of a third and be crewed by people from a fourth country. Unless we have very comprehensive international cooperation and legislation it may be extremely difficult to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained.

I would like to relate this Bill to our national environmental action programme. It is a very comprehensive, good programme and very well described in this the first Progress Report and Environmental Action Programme. We can and should all agree with that. It covers many aspects of our environment from the point of view of awareness, which is perhaps the most important, at the beginning. Air quality, water quality, inland waters, the marine environment, agriculture, forestry and many other aspects are covered.

As regards the marine environment, the steps being taken — some of them belated — include the environment action programme which should eliminate untreated discharges of sewage from major coastal towns here within the next decade, admittedly at a huge cost of £400 million.

There are many other aspects which are very worthwhile in this programme, progress on the coastal scheme, in relation to the Irish Sea, the dumping at sea programme and the waste disposal in harbours and beaches. All these relate to this Bill which must be seen as just one part of what one hopes will be a comprehensive programme, relating to the sea and, in particular, to the prevention of pollution at sea which is so very relevant in this country. I welcome the Bill.

Mr. O'Toole: This is progressive legislation inasmuch as it sets us on the course towards protecting our marine environment. It is now almost a cant phrase, and certainly a cliché, to say that our environment is really all we will be able to pass on to the next generation. It is our heritage and one we must guard. My [394] background is in islands. My ancestors moved from Wicklow to Omey Island in 1325, some generations later they moved to Inishturk, some generations later again moved to Lettermore in County Galway, and in recent times they moved to Dingle in County Kerry.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator was destined for great things.

Mrs. Doyle: Maybe Inishvickillane.

Mr. O'Toole: I have a long history of interest in islands, in the sea and in the seaboard. Before I got involved in my present activities I was very involved in aquatic sports, particularly subaqua diving. Therefore, I have a love of the sea. Even at that time, pollution was brought home to me in a very serious way. My experience of diving has been in the sandy polluted waters off the east coast. The difference between being 20 or 30 feet under the surface in the Atlantic compared with the Irish Sea is extraordinary in terms of colour and cleanliness. I have seen many people after their first experience of the sea. People have become anaesthetised looking at the surface of the sea. The movement of the water is mesmerising and has its own magic. That is as nothing to the effect of the undersea life which people like Jacques Cousteau have brought to a wider audience. That is really what we are protecting. An extraordinary number of world figures have chosen to try to highlight the need for protection of the marine environment.

Where we probably failed is in bringing home to people how precious and important is our marine life and the subaqua world of flora and fauna. It is nice to see flora and fauna mentioned in the Bill, specifically. One aspect of pollution that concerns me is that while there is a great sense of protection and awareness of open season and closed season on birds and mammals, an amazing number of people think nothing about going out in a boat with a gun and shooting everything in sight. That is appalling and it shows a [395] lack of commitment to the fauna of the sea, including the birds.

The various definitions in the Bill, particularly of flora and fauna are also interesting and useful. The lichens and mosses which are some of the base parts of the biological circle need to be protected. They are part of what is not being protected at the moment. The Bill, which is competent legislation, is not nearly comprehensive enough in that it does not address many of the areas that require to be addressed. I am very committed to the idea of legislation which enables us to implement international conventions. In fact, I have regularly criticised this and other Governments for their lethargy in ensuring that international conventions are brought into legislation and implemented. It is good to see that being done in this case. However, a breakdown takes place, for instance, with the registration at ports of convenience of vessels who seem to be doing that in order to avoid complying with regulations of other countries. I would like the Minister to say if we are required, under European directives, to ensure that all ships registered in European countries comply with a minimum set of regulations. Is that the reason why other ships are registered outside the Community? That is my understanding of the case. A chain is as strong as its weakest link and a disreputable, irresponsible ship owner who does not wish to comply with the regulations required in boat building or in specifications of ships can register in what we call a port of convenience. I should like to ask the Minister if we have, under this legislation, any authority to stop coming into our European waters any ships registered in countries which do not require the implementation of the minimum specifications required by international conventions. If that is not the case those ships will be registered in ports of convenience thus defeating the whole purpose of the Bill. There is no point in our having legislation which is unenforceable against half the ships in the world. That is my reading of it but I [396] may well be wrong about it. The Minister should respond to it in detail.

We will be the only island in the European Community by this time next year when the Channel Tunnel is opened. There will be land access to all countries in the community except Ireland. That is a very precious thing. It is something we can be proud of and need to protect. We are failing to do so at the moment.

I listened to what Senator Conroy said about the difference between a beach in Ireland and one on the Continent and how we are less careful about looking after our beaches. I do not agree with him. I walk on a beach most Sundays and I am quite impressed by the care people take of their environment. I am also impressed by the outstanding work being done by certain local authorities, in particular Dublin County Council, the one I know best. During the height of the summer on Sunday afternoons they not only had waste disposal points but they had a bin and litter collection on the beach in places like Donabate and Portmarnock. For thousands of people to see a local authority doing that on a Sunday afternoon raises two questions, first, should it be necessary for them to do it? It should not be in a perfect world; people should take their litter home with them. People should realise that disposable nappies should not be left at the nearest available point. They should be taken home and disposed of properly, not left at the beach. The fact that collections are made by the local authorities raises an awareness and educates people with regard to the need to protect their environment. It has a spin-off effect and they are to be complimented.

This Bill deals with noxious emissions such as tar chemicals, etc. Over the weekend I spoke to the Irish manager of a large international carrier of chemicals. His company are meticulous about ensuring that they comply with all regulations. They carry chemicals on land. Unfortunately one of their carriers recently overturned in the Bantry area and caused a serious spillage which went into the waters of Bantry Bay.

[397] The reason I raise this is because I would like to put on record his views as an industrialist who has no connection with politics, local authorities or whatever. He said he was extraordinarily impressed by the quick and efficient response of Cork County Council who immediately put booms in the water and set in place the necessary operation to clean up the spillage. They did it most effectively. He would regard himself as an expert in the area and he said he was delighted with the operation. We all know that Bantry has had more experience of this than anywhere else but nevertheless they did it so effectively that he said he would like an opportunity to put on record his appreciation of their work and that is what I am doing now.

He also said — and this is a point which should be taken on board by those who query the effectiveness of local authorities and whether they can compete effectively — the cost to his company was very competitive and he could not argue about the final bill he received from the local authority. He felt he could not have done it any cheaper had he been in control himself. It is good to have that on record and to know that our local authorities have got this sense of awareness.

If we want to see what can happen in an irresponsible world that does not care about its environment we can look at the Mediterranean. I do not know about other people in this House but I would not swim in the Mediterranean. I would walk alone on a beach but I would not go into the water in most parts of the Mediterranean. It was the middle of the world in Roman times and hence the title the middle of the terrain or the middle of the world. It has now become the sewer of the world in more ways than one. What has happened to that beautiful see is appalling. The level of pollution is dreadful. It happened because of uncontrollable greed, unrestrained commerce and too much trust in the entreprenurial zeal of those who would build on our coasts, dump in our seas and take without care for the environment.

I would take a very strong line with the Green environmentalists who do not [398] want development at any cost. I believe in rational restrained and controlled development and I stress “controlled”. Is the Minister happy with the level of penalty envisaged in this Bill? I know the size of most harbours and channels in this country but as far as I know it would take one of these super tankers moving at normal speed approximately four miles to stop. In many situations at sea you can see for four miles ahead but in many you cannot. It shows how appallingly close to disaster they could come when moving chemicals throughout the world. The Bill makes it clear that we are dealing with the requirements for substances carried in packaged form. Can the Minister explain if that means containers? I am not clear about this legislation and this is a question I am asking. I do not like asking a question to which I do not know the answer. My grandfather told me years ago not to ask questions unless I knew the answers. I do not know the answer and I am seeking information.

Mrs. Doyle: The humility of it all.

Mr. O'Toole: There is not much point in having specifications for noxious chemicals carried in containers on board ship if the same chemical substances can be carried freely in the hold of a ship. I would appreciate if the Minister would deal with that in his reply. It is the weakest link in the chain and is a typical example of where something could go wrong. People will not carry containers; they will simply put them into the hold.

I do not understand how this will operate in international waters. I know there are various laws of the sea, conventions, etc. Are we dealing with pollution which can take place outside our territorial area? Do we have power to do anything in such situations? As far as I know, all the oceans of the world are under the control of the various laws of the sea. I am not quite clear about how our jurisdiction extends beyond our area but I am sure [399] that will be addressed during the course of the debate.

I was reared in the same parish as Senator Fitzgerald, in a fishing port. I often wonder whether we have ever taken time to educate our fishermen on the need to protect and care for the environment. It was never part of a skipper's course. I remember checking that some years ago. Nobody mentions to them that they need to have a sense of responsibility for marine life, which is where they find their livelihood. It has never been addressed as part of their responsibility. It is wrong if they only take from the sea. It is important that they be made to feel they have a responsibility too. These laws are there for their sake also. We do not want people to find a way around the legislation.

I was talking recently to the proprietors of a hotel near the town of Dingle in a very scenic area. They told me that every Sunday afternoon during the summer season and more irregularly during the winter season, they round up a group of local children to go down to one of the coves which is in a backwater near Smerwick and gather up all the plastic nappies which have been dumped into the water. For the sake of their business which is a hotel business they organise that clearup on a regular basis. That is a dreadful reflection on people who go to the beach for a day and just leave that sort of rubbish after them. Plastic is non-biodegradable. It will be there for generations and will cause pollution.

In speaking about the environment I always refer to the new generation of carers for the environment who were created by my profession and by my members, teachers in national schools. The introduction of the new curriculum in 1971 brough back something that was lost for 20 years, namely, the subject of nature study. A very good friend of mine, a member of my professional union and a family friend as well Leo Hallissey, in the west of Ireland has been working with [400] the Department of the Environment on a project to develop the use of aquaria in different places around the country. What is so great about the work of Enfo is that they use simple things like lichen, rocks and crabs. They are not taking the beautiful fish you can see in any Chinese restaurant. They take the sea life that is there and it is important that people see shell life in an aquarium as much as anything else.

Marine life includes more than just large fish. It includes the bivalves, anemones, urchins and so on. It is now fair to say that most people who came through the primary school system in the early seventies have a greater interest in and knowledge of the environment than those who came before that. I came through the educational system without knowing the names of trees or being able to identify leaves. As a teacher I had to educate myself in flora and fauna. It was an extraordinary experience in the early seventies to re-educate myself with the children I was teaching.

It is good to be able to say something positive about politicians after the hammering we have taken over the past few months but there is a growing number of politicians who are sincerely — I do not use that word too often — committed to caring for the environment. I would put into that group of people that much battered man at the moment, the Taoiseach, who has shown an extraordinary interest in the environment. No-one can take that from him. His interest in it is praiseworthy.

There are two industries based on the sea. The first one is fishing. We have failed in our fishing industry. Our fishing industry is not creating the level of employment it should. For example, for any person working at sea in European countries there are approximately nine to ten land jobs. In Ireland for every person working at sea there are fewer than two land jobs. If I could coin a phrase, we are exporting fish on the hoof. We should process the fish and then [401] export it to the huge European market. We have failed to do that. If we do not control pollution and develop the industry we will lose out in all sorts of ways. The area of pollution is a responsibility which should be shared by the fishing industry. They should be seen to have a role in ensuring that the marine environment is protected from pollution.

We have an extraordinary length of coastline with a variety of beaches, rocks and cliffs. We have the Mountains of Mourne, the high Cliffs of Moher and the beaches on the west coast. There is every kind of beach and cove, be it sandy or rocky. There are a variety of island communities. They are worth protecting.

I visited many of the islands off the west coast. Each one has a subculture and magic of its own. Each one has something to offer to tourism. There is a group of people who want to keep the west undeveloped and keep the sea as something that is there for the person flying in for the weekend from Frankfurt. It is there for the people to use wisely, whether they make their living from it or use it as a source of pleasure.

What we have to offer to the European Community, and one of our great advantages, is clean seas. The Greenpeace slogan of clean seas, sweet water and clean air is something we should aspire to. This Bill is a move in that direction, although it is not as comprehensive as I would like it to be. We need to develop in a controlled way the fishing industry and the tourism industry based on the sea. I am aware that Bord Fáilte would like to see a marina every 35 miles along our coastline. That would be somewhat excessive. I do not want us to be totally overrun with commercial development but it is important that development takes place within the constraints of appropriate legislation such as this.

Island communities depend on a clean and unpolluted sea in order to find a living. I shared my classroom growing up in Dingle with the last generation of children who were born on the Great [402] Blasket Island. It is a memory we will not forget. There was a sense of a loss. We are now trying to build interpretative centres and revitalise in some way the life which existed on that island before 1953. I would hate us to see the same thing happen in the inhabited islands along the west coast, Inishturk, Inishbofin, Omey Island and so on. Some of them are deserted at this stage. I am sure, Senator Doyle will talk about the Saltees.

Mrs. Doyle: I am trying to work out how sea pollution caused the inhabitants to leave the islands but I will get there yet.

Mr. O'Toole: I might spell it out in a bit more detail. In Ó Faoláin's book about island life and the sea and also in Synge's poems and dramas based on the sea, there is an overriding sense of salt — the Irish word is “goirt”, saltiness — which permeates the life and culture of the islands and that is the sense in which they depend on the sea for their existence and survival. They can only have that existence if there is a safe, unpolluted, healthy environment in which they can make a living.

Mrs. Doyle: They left before pollution became an issue.

Mr. O'Toole: They did not. We are now reaching a situation where all the islands could be depopulated because of pollution. I recognise that Senator Doyle and others are keen to say a few words on this legislation. Senator Doyle represents a coastal constituency but I represent the world as I keep stressing to Members of this House. My constituency extends right throughout the globe and I have a global interest in sea pollution which is why I raised the question of pollution outside the jurisdiction and how we might address it.

I welcome the legislation but I wish it was somewhat more comprehensive. I always welcome moves by Ireland to [403] implement the various conventions. There are many other conventions which we have conveniently ignored, for instance, the Montreal Convention on CFCs which is one of many to do with the environment. Aerosol cans are one of the items one sees floating beside plastic disposable nappies in the coves and beaches and we should address that point also.

Mrs. Doyle: I will continue my discussion with Senator O'Toole on how sea pollution was the cause of depopulation of the Blaskets later. I concur with him on the tragedy of the depopulation of our small island communities around our coasts. Many of them were depopulated before pollution of the seas became a big issue but this point is well made nonetheless.

This Bill must be given a general welcome. I suspect like all maritime or marine Bills it was an extremely difficult Bill to draft and even as it stands it is a legal minefield because that is usually the case when international maritime regulations are involved.

The Bill as we know ratifies what we refer to as MARPOL 1973-78 and accedes to the 1973 Protocol relating to Intervention on the High Seas in cases of Marine Pollution by Substances other than Oil. I would like to ask a question I asked four years ago when I spoke in the Dáil on the Second Stage of the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill, 1987. What has happened to the Civil Liability Convention, 1984? Why is it not before us now to ratify? In 1987 we ratified the Civil Liability Convention, 1969. That took 18 years to make it to these Houses to be ratified. In 1987 we surely could have ratified the 1984 convention. We had the exact type of legislation that would have enabled us to do it, the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill at the time. I would have thought this legislation would have lent [404] itself to ratifying the 1984 convention, particularly when this Bill amends portions of the 1987 Bill. I cannot understand why the Minister has reneged on bringing forward the Civil Liability Convention, 1984 which has major implications for this Bill, the 1987 Bill and the whole area of responsibility in relation to damage from ships and oil pollution, etc. I would like an explanation from the Minister.

I checked with the Department this morning when I was trying to refresh my memory on this lest the 1984 convention had slipped through the Houses between 1987 and now, and I was reliably told — I would take anything from Minister Wilson's office as being reliable — that it is in the queue to get into the Dáil. In 1987, I was told it was in the pipeline. Four years later it is in the queue. I would accept that if we did not have this legislation which would have allowed that convention to be ratified because it deals with other matters immediately pertaining to it. It was a major omission on the Minister's part not to use this legislation to ratify the Civil Liability Convention, 1984, given the implications of not doing so. I look forward with interest to the Minister's response to that point.

This Bill ratifies a convention. I would like an assurance from the Minister that the wording in the Bill is exactly similar to the convention it purports to ratify. There were major criticisms of the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill, 1987 and the conventions that were ratified therein because the parliamentary draftsman or the Minister decided to word the ratification of the conventions in the Bill differently from the exact wording that was in the conventions at the time. The maritime legal experts pointed out the enormous dangers they are in doing so.

Not having read the detail and the exact wording of the conventions involved in the Bill before us — one would want to have very little else to do for a long time to digest the words used [405] in that — I would like an assurance from the Minister that the words used in relation to the conventions we are discussing here today are the exact words in the original convention documents. We do not want to create a legal minefield that would take years and years of haggling and hassling through the courts of this land and elsewhere to sort out. The only people who would benefit would be the legal profession and not those we are trying to protect under this Bill.

I welcome the Bill but I am concerned about the definition of “owner” in the Bill. I say this because there were major problems with the definition of “owner” when the Amoco Cadiz incident was being processed. The word “owner” is defined little bit better than it was in the 1987 Bill. I spoke on the Second Stage debate in 1987 on that Bill and recalled the Amoco Cadiz disaster. When the matter of damages was being considered it was discovered there was a parent company involved. There was also an operating company and finally the ship had been chartered out to a seperate company again. In terms of the operators of the ship or those responsible for any disaster there was a pick of four different companies from which to decide who was responsible or liable at the time.

I would like an assurance that this Bill, taking as an example the Amoco Cadiz story, would cover the four possible definitions of “owner” as was determined in the courts in the case of the Amoco Cadiz. It goes further than the 1987 Bill but I am not sure that we really tie down the case that was exposed in terms of the different levels of ownership in the Amoco Cadiz case and the disaster that happened at the time. Basically we do not want anybody, owner, skipper, parent company, operating company, charter company or flag of convenience outfit to slide out from their responsibilities because of some legal wrangle over the definition of “owner”. I am sure the [406] Minister agrees with me and I look forward to his assurances as to the interpretation of “owner” as defined in the definition section of this Bill.

I ask the Minister to look at the definition of “ship”. I have no difficulty with what is in the Bill; it is what is not in it that causes me concern. It was an education for me to realise how far fish farming and aquaculture had developed in terms of the structures in which the different species being farmed are contained. Effectively the structures used in our socalled fish farms are all but ships given the definition used here for “ship”. I understand — I am subject to correction if my understanding is wrong — that aquaculture and fish farming is not included in this Bill. Any pollution, effluent or garbage discharged from the activities of fish farming into our waters are not included in this Bill. If my interpretation is correct it is an enormous omission. Some years ago when talking about fish farming we were talking about an area of sea which was coralled, maybe netted or staked in, and the operation was contained therein. Some of what passes for fish farms today are effectively boats. They are big, wooden solid structures of one kind or another that are permanently anchored or moored off our coast. They would seem to come under the term “ship” as defined. I await with interest the Minister's reasoning as to why, given the difficulties alleged to have arisen by pollution from our intensive fish farming operations, they are not contained in the Bill. In fact, it is an important issue. It is important both to the success of fish farming and to the prevention of pollution of our seas. A section dealing with fish farms is needed.

May I ask the Minister whether dredging of our harbours, given that the Bill refers to the prohibition and discharge of oil and other substances — the definition of other substances is oil, oily mixtures, noxious liquid substances, harmful substances, sewage or garbage — is covered in the Bill? Is dredging, particularly the [407] dredging of our estuaries which is quite a common occurrence, and the dumping of the dredged spoil on to banks in shallow waters around our coast, covered in the Bill?

I would like to refer to a report prepared by the county councils of Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford on the water quality management plan for the Suir, Barrow and Nore estuaries. This is but one of the many excellent water quality management plans the Department of the Environment are requiring local authorities to prepare. I would like to put on record the views of local authorities on dredging and the implications of it. Paragraph 730 of the report states:

In view of the importance of shipping to the local population centres and the susceptibility of the estuary to sedimentation it is envisaged that major dredging operations will be necessary at intervals in certain areas.

It mentions particularly Cheekpoint and the Barrow estuary between New Ross and Cheekpoint. The report continues:

While such operations will present some direct qualitative impact on estuarine waters, dredging may also have an effect in dynamic terms since it can mask a national cycle of events which could otherwise have taken place or induce uncharacteristic behaviour patterns.

Any given regime will tend towards a state of equilibrium in relation to the natural sedimentation and erosion processes. In this complex channelised estuary there is a degree of associated instability and a suddening deepening ...

I translate “sudden deepening” to mean “dredging”

...or enlargement of a channel within a reach will at once produce local changes in velocity and flow patterns together with a completely new [408] pattern of accretion and erosion. This will be reflected in turn by variations in the sediment transport quantities which will affect areas upstream and downstream of that originally altered. The minute clay particles which constitute mud flocs provide large surface areas for rapid absorption of organic pollutants and there may be a built up of high concentrations of such pollutants in mud shoals even through the concentrations in the water above is well within permissible limits.

The report continues:

Dynamic changes brought about by dredging may result in the release of anaerobic matter into suspension and increase the consumption of dissolved oxygen. Obviously any major dredging operation has the allied problem of ensuring that spoil grounds do not constitute to any deterioration in present conditions.

In fact from this area of our coast the dredge or spoil is dumped on the bank flats between New Ross and Ferrypoint in the Barrow estuary. Fairly large scale dredging was, in fact, carried out in the sixties at New Ross. The report continues:

——at present dredgings from Waterford Harbour are dumped in the deep sections of the King's Channel — the amount dumped there in 1984 totalled 29,000 tonnes.

The dredging operations going on around our coast and in our estuaries for very good reasons could have a major impact on sea pollution generally if they are not tightly controlled within the ambit of this Bill. I would like assurances from the Minister that these operations, necessary and all as they may be, come within the control of this Bill.

The report continues:

This would appear to be a satisfactory dumping area the King's Channel in view of the depth of water [409] available and the weak currents in this reach. These dredgings contained small but measureable amounts of List 1 substances (mercury, cadmium and organhalogens) and of all the metals for which standards have been set... including arsenic and nickel.

The local authorities are admitting that these are the type of toxins they are dredging from our estuaries, from the mouth of our rivers and harbours and dumping further out on the mud flats. The report adds:

Continued monitoring and analysis of such dredgings is necessary to quantify the various constituents and to determine whether the source is polluted.

Before they know whether the source is polluted they are, in fact, dumping the spoil of the dredging out further at sea. The report continues:

Care must be taken not to apply large quantities of metals particularly, or other contaminants to the estuarine bed where their fate is still largely unknown.

And so say all of us. I make the point rather strongly in relation to the dredging procedures around our coast. I do not think any of us have given sufficient attention to this procedure that has developed as very necessary from the local authorities' viewpoint and from the viewpoint of the management of the harbours and allowing shipping channels in and out of the harbours. However, from a sea pollution point of view, and from a marine aspect, I am not so sure that the activities have been properly monitored and that we know what pollutants are being dumped out to sea.

On this point section 36 deals with the amendment to the Continental Shelf Act, 1968. Apparently, the continental shelf which is responsible for so much good around our country and has had such an impact on our climate, water temperatures and the flora and fauna of our [410] coastal waters, has been taking quite a battering for all sorts of reasons, not least because successive Governments have failed to provide the capital necessary for a primary and secondary and, indeed, tertiary treatment of sewage as well as industrial and farm effluent from the land source.

Indeed, local authorities we must remind ourselves are responsible for managing the waste created not only by the human population but by the animal population and from the industrialised and commercial sectors. Section 36 states that the Minister for Energy, in consultation with the Minister for the Marine, may make regulations prohibiting or regulating the discharge of any oil, oily mixture, noxious liquid substance, harmful substance, sewage or garbage. I know the word is “may”. We have had many a debate in the House about that word, “the Minister may” do this or that, and not the Minister “shall” do this or that.

As it was important enough to put this in the Bill, I assume the Minister in certain circumstances will be making regulations which will protect our continental shelf. We must ask the Minister to indicate whether increased moneys will be made available to speed up the provision of treatment plants that are needed in so many areas around our coast. At the moment a multi-million pound water treatment programme plant is being installed in Wexford. We have just finished one in Enniscorthy and I imagine some of my colleagues from other areas around the country will be able to indicate in their maritime constituencies the progress that has been made. It has never appeared to be politically popular to put much money into the provision of sewage treatment plants; it has been low on the political agenda of successive Governments. I am not making a political point, because all Governments in the last 20 or 30 years have been too slow to put in the proper treatment plants for sewage and, [411] indeed, other effluent from our centres of population.

How, under section 36, does the Minister intend to direct the local authorities who will have to continue emitting raw sewage and not properly treated industrial effluent until the Government provide the funds for the treatment plants? I would be very interested to know the implications of section 36 for our local authorities. Section 7 (1) (a) refers to emissions from a pipeline. Untreated sewage and other effluents go into our waters around our coast from pipelines. This is a very important section that will impact heavily on local authorities. Can I take it to mean, in fact, that we will speed up our sanitary services programme, particularly in the maritime counties and in all our counties, because inland waters suffer proportionately just as badly because the dilution effect there is less than in the coast? Can we take it that there is a message in amending the Continental Shelf Act that the Minister intends to pursue local authorities and that before he does that he will, in fact, ensure that they have the wherewithal to provide the necessary treatment before any effluent is discharged into our coastal waters?

On coastal waters and on the harbour dredging — before I leave this particular point — could I ask where this Bill marries with the Marine Institute Bill, and that marries with the Environmental Protection Agency Bill and who, in fact, has the responsibility for the protection of estuarine waters? I welcomed all the three Bills and have spoken on all of them in the House. There is an area of confusion as to who has responsibility for the protection of the environment in our estuaries. Certainly at the Environmental Protection Agency Bill stage — and it is not that long gone through this House — we did not get a satisfactory answer from the Minister and I put this point. When I spoke on the Marine Institute Bill, the confusion had just become apparent to [412] us at that stage because of the claims in that Bill to be responsible for our estuaries out to a certain point. In this Bill I take it that from the coast out at different points, in fact, pollution matters and breaches of same are going to be dealt with under this particular Act. I would like to know how those three measures and to a certain extent the Radiological Protection Act, which set up the radiological protection agency in terms of nuclear and radioactive discharges, fit with the other three? We seem to have four pieces of legislation, all with vague responsibilities for our estuary waters and our immediate coastal waters, but it is none too clear where the ultimate responsibility lies. I would appreciate very much if that matter could be clarified.

I would like also to refer to the whole vexed area of limitation and liability for pollution damage. I know oil pollution is not the only issue dealt with in this. It is the total gamut of sea pollution. Other speakers have dealt very eloquently with the need to protect our coastline and the importance of our beaches and our marine environment generally. I would totally concur with what they said there. To go back to the oil pollution, which I suppose is the most technical and legally difficult area, there are a few questions I would like to ask. As the Minister is aware, the right to limit liability is given to ship owners because of the enormous risks which shipowners are exposed to in the modern world. You are into multi-million pound claims not only in terms of the value of the ship but the potential damage that can be done particularly with the bulk carriers which Professor Conroy referred to earlier.

Ship owners insure their liability in mutual protection and indemnity associations known to us generally as the P and I clubs. The London P and I clubs between them insure more than 90 per cent of the world's tonnage each year and bear the first £750,000 of any claim against any of their members. Claims are [413] then pooled between the clubs up to about the £12 million mark and that relates to the £10 million fine that the Minister refers to later on in the penalty section of the Bill. After the £12 million cut off, the excess of any one claim falls on reinsurance underwriters with whom the London group of P and I clubs have placed their insurance. The London group of the P and I clubs are now insured for £1,000 million in excess of the £12 million for any one claim. That indicates the multi-million pound risk industry that we are talking about when we talk about oil pollution generally and the complications in this area. So great are the risks to which ship owners are exposed that the professional managers of these P and I clubs are discussing whether they can continue to offer unlimited cover, which has always been a feature of P and I. These managers seriously believe that there is a danger that some day they will be faced with a claim which will go through the present limits of cover and the present limits at the moment are over £1,000 million. The mind boggles. It is hard to even comprehend the implications of it.

The limitation of a ship owner's liability has to be considered against this background and the right to limit liability should be virtually unbreakable to provide the element of certainty which is necessary when attempting to negotiate adequate reinsurance cover. Generally, the test which is applied for entitlement to limit liability is the absence of any actual fault or privity. I think the Minister is probably well aware of these arguments in maritime legal circles. As the legal profession has confirmed to the Minister, these words have been fruitful causes of litigation for many years, the absence of actual fault or privity. If limitation on liability is accepted in principle, which I feel it is, the right to limit should be more or less unbreakable to ensure that certain risks are, in fact, insurable in terms of oil pollution damage generally — of all sea pollution damage, but particularly oil [414] pollution damage. For that reason the more modern tests applied in recent conventions is that the entitlement to limit liability should be contingent on the ship owner and that he or she did not commit an act or omission with the intent of causing the damage which gives rise to the liability, nor that he or she acted recklessly or with the knowledge that such damage probably would result.

Perhaps a lot of these issues will be cleared with the limitation convention of 1976 when that comes up for ratification. I would ask the Minister, along with the point I made earlier on about the civil liability convention of 1984, as to what is happening the limitation convention of 1976? It is most important in this particular area in terms of the right to limit liability, in terms of proper insurance cover and in terms of being able to enforce the polluter-pays principle if people are properly insured when we are into this vitally important area. We need only look at the damage that has been done to our coastline over the years in various catastrophic incidents and look at the Alaskan and the Amoco Cadiz and the others to realise just what damage can happen. I ask the Minister to indicate to me what is happening the limitation convention of 1976, and how he feels it could impact on this most important area of the serious risk of multi-million pound claims for oil pollution damages generally?

One section of the Bill deals with powers of detention of ships if certain regulations are not met and if certificates cannot be issued in terms of faulty equipment or, indeed, of the structure of the ship itself. Again, in maritime legal circles there are major concerns about the powers of detention both in the Oil Pollution Act as it now is and, indeed, as proposed in this Sea Pollution Bill, 1990. The powers of detention appear to usurp the role of the Admiralty Marshal. We are into the whole area of the international maritime organisation and, apparently, the IMO could find us in [415] breach of the civil liability convention which, to my knowledge, does not contain this detention power. I also understand that the equivalent UK legislation — particularly in relation to the Oil Pollution Act but also in terms of sea pollution — does not contain the detention powers as we have taken them unto ourselves in this Act. I do not criticise the Minister for doing that but I would like assurances that the procedures being used to introduce detention of ships on our coasts for civil breaches will stand up in courts of law. I have no argument with criminal breaches or criminal problems. They should be detained, and anything possible thrown at them. In terms of the civil breaches I seriously question whether the powers of detention under this particular Bill will stand up in courts of law. Other nations, for whatever reason, have decided not to proceed in the manner we have here in relation to this particular issue.

I would like to refer to the Second Schedule for a moment. One of the main purposes of the Oil Pollution Act, in fact, was to ensure the compulsory insurance of any oil tankers in our waters. We can have no argument with that. If in such a case the tanker is insured and an oil pollution accident occurs, could the Minister say in which circumstances an inspector or harbourmaster would be entitled to detain the ship? If there is limited liability and if they have proper insurance cover, if they discharge their responsibilities to the extent of their liability and according to their insurance cover, why or how could a ship be detained? Effectively, a ship could be detained indefinitely under these provisions as the procedure for court determination of the entitlement to limit liability could, in fact, last for months under this particular section, if that was going to be contested. According to section 13 (2) of the Oil Pollution Act, which forms part of the Second Schedule of this Bill, the ship could never be released but left to rot in [416] port. This is the view of the maritime legal people.

We need to look much more closely at what we are proposing in this particular area. Where a court has determined that a person who has incurred a liability for pollution damage is entitled to limit his liability or that such a person has paid into court a sum of not less than the amount determined by the court to be limited liability — in other words, if the polluter concerned has discharged his applications in terms for paying for any damages done — surely he or she, the owner, would be entitled to have the ship released even if he or she could not prove he was entitled to the limited liability, if they have completed their obligations.

Again, I point to the civil liability convention of 1984, which will impact on this particular area. I think without that convention being ratified we are in extremely difficult legal waters in trying to pursue our powers in claiming a detention of ships when they are in breach in civil cases.

Again, in criminal cases, I have no argument with what is being proposed there. Could there be any confusion between the definition in role of harbourmasters and inspectors in this legislation? We have been over this before in different areas, but the last Bill was very ambiguous in this area. The marine lawyers were delighted with the opportunities that are there for them if they are ever challenged or have to take a case in this area. Given the role we entrust to harbourmasters and inspectors, I do think there is an ambiguity in the terms of reference. Even in this Bill to a certain extent, I think you can interpose the word “inspector” for “harbourmaster” in many of the sections. Could I have an assurance from the Minister that this will not cause problems?

There are excellent sections in the Bill providing facilities for the disposal of waste, garbage, oil, sludge, etc., in our ports and harbours. I have major concern [417] about entrusting any further responsibilities to local authorities without indicating how they are going to pay for them.

We have had a lot of legislation that reads well and sounds well, but which ultimately passes the buck to local authorities to implement. Local authorities are no longer financially autonomous since the removal of rates. I do not have to tell the Minister that with the block system there will be little left for providing disposal facilities in Kilmore Quay, Wexford Harbour, Duncannon Port, Cahore or Courtown and all the many ports we are so pleased to have along the Wexford coast, for example, but for which we cannot afford even minimal maintenance at the moment. We are already letting down the seafaring community in terms of our ability as a local authority.

I do not think that the maritime constituencies can be asked to accept more responsibilities which this Bill imposes on them, unless the Minister provides the wherewithal for them to deliver. I know the Minister makes provision in the Bill for allowing charges for different breaches of the regulation. I hope the “polluter pays” principle is clearly underlined in the Bill, but I do not think it is strong enough. It needs to be beefed up so that there is no doubt that those who damage and pollute our seas and our coastline will pay, and the moneys will go to the Central Exchequer.

The local authorities need proper funding to provide disposal facilities at our ports and harbours that are under the authority of local authorities at the moment. Iarnród Éireann's only port is Rosslare port and it will be up to them to provide the wherewithal for disposal facilities in their port. I am not too sure if there are any Office of Public Works ports. I thought they had all been handed over to the Department of the Marine, but I stand to be corrected on that. Office of Public Works ports are referred to in [418] the Bill. The biggest end of the responsibility will be with the Department of the Marine to provide these facilities. I do not think local authorities can be expected to provide the type of facilities we must insist on to keep our seas clean from the seafaring and fishing community, and the oil tankers particularly. With modern technology, those at sea for days will have a natural collection of refuse, garbage and effluent of one kind or another. Assuming they have the proper containers to store it for a limited period, when they berth, when they moor, there must be facilities for them to empty the containers and rid themselves of their waste, effluent and garbage generally. How that will be provided for the small ports when some of our large fishing vessels tie up there I do not know. The Minister must stand behind the local authority or the Bill will not be effective.

What is the position in relation to this Bill and the Oslo Convention? How do they marry? I will not go into detail on that. The Minister is in a much better position to detail to me the relationship between the Oslo Convention and this Bill. I imagine it is a very close one and it will be all the better for that. Why, under section 4, in peace time, are warships excluded from the Bill? We can all accept that during war and during troubled times we are not going to get into the nitty gritty about warships and throwing the odd bit of effluent over the side. I wish they would not, but one can assume it will happen. But in peace time, why should warships be treated any differently to the rest of shipping traffic in our very busy waters around this small island? I do not think that is acceptable.

Are fishing protection vessels warships? Are they excluded? I hope not. I hope, in fact, that the vessels of State and the vessels that are protecting our coastline should be leading by example and that they are included. Could we hear from the Minister what the status of fishery protection vessels are under this [419] legislation? How are radioactive discharges into our sea being treated under this Bill? Will they be treated with the seriousness that is necessary? Are the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues pursuing a policy of zero radioactive discharges as the technologies become available to retrofit in the case of plants which are emitting radioactive discharges at the moment?

With reference to Abbotstown and the fisheries research centre, is there a commitment anywhere in this Bill to ensure permanent staffing at the levels commensurate with the island nation and the important seas around our coast? I know they are getting £2 million for contract staff work in the next year, but we seriously need permanent staff at Abbotstown to make it the institution we would all like it to be.

Finally, I think the wonders, the mysteries [420] and the beauty of marine life enthrals and fascinates us all in different ways. During the week I was looking at a wonderful programme on the Great Barrier Coral Reef and the flora and fauna there. As other speakers have very eloquently state, there is a particular onus on us as legislators to protect the enormous marine resources around our coast so that they can be sensitively exploited and we leave them in a better condition for the next generation than we inherited.

I welcome the Bill although I have some major concerns about the legal implications of the sections I have outlined and I look forward to the Minister's response to same.

Debate adjourned.

The Seanad adjourned at 4 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 6 November 1991.