The purpose of the Minister's statement of 14 February last was to indicate that the MV Irish Spruce was entered on the Irish register of shipping. The national register of shipping in any country constitutes those ships entered on the register at any given time. The total register constitutes its merchant fleet at that time.
The Irish Spruce was never owned by Irish Shipping Limited; it was leased by the company from the owners Jura Shipping Limited and the lease payments were guaranteed by the Minister for Finance. The Government recognise the arguments in favour of the Irish Spruce remaining on the Irish register. There are, however, a number of legal and operational difficulties in this regard. The Minister anticipates that the final disposition of the vessel will be settled within a short period. The cost of the care and maintenance of the Irish Spruce while it has been berthed at Marseilles has been approximately £34,000 per week. These costs include port charges, victualling and so on in addition to crewing costs.
The total expenditure to date by the State, including expenditure by Irish Shipping Limited prior to the liquidation, on the Irish Spruce amounts to £14½ million approximately. This is made up of payments related to the construction and leasing of the vessel, and its care and maintenance since the liquidation.
It is estimated that the total net cost of meeting the entire guarantee given by the Minister for Finance in respect of the Irish Spruce would be £35 million approximately at current exchange rates. Of this, about a quarter is in respect of Irish Shipping Limited's former liabilities and, arising from the liquidation of the company, this represents the extra liability falling to be paid by the Exchequer. The remaining three-quarters were an Exchequer liability from the time of the construction of the Irish Spruce.
The estimated total cost to the Exchequer of the liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited will be of the order of just under £50 million. This compares to an estimate, a year ago, of the cost of keeping Irish Shipping Limited going to the end of 1989 of aproximately £200 million. Since then tramp shipping rates have further decreased and at present levels a recent estimate puts the cost of this option now at approximately £220 million.