Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Pollution of the Atlantic Coastline.

Peter Barry

Question:

36 Mr. Barry asked the Minister for the Marine the plans, if any, he has to talk to his EC counterparts on the question of pollution of the Atlantic coastline and to draw up disaster contingency plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I can advise the Deputy that at the Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 8 June last I fully ventilated our concerns and objectives for priority action to improve maritime safety and prevent marine pollution.

I am pleased to report that the Council unanimously endorsed a resolution outlining priority measures for a Community action programme which, when implemented should significantly contribute to the prevention of marine pollution around the Community coastlines. I am particularly gratified that measures which, at the Transport Council meeting last March, I identified as requiring immediate action have been earmarked for priority action. These include the introduction of ship traffic control systems at Community and national level, additional port state control measures, including strengthened inspections and comprehensive reporting systems to cover vessels transiting along Community coasts.

Most notably, however, the Community action programme highlights as a priority the urgent identification of environmentally sensitive areas and the adoption of measures for their protection. In this context I have informed EC colleagues that Ireland is pressing ahead with specific proposals to protect our coastline from potentially hazardous marine accidents. Such avoidance measures are, for me, the immediate national priority. I will shortly be bringing to the Commission and to the International Maritime Organisation detailed proposals which will require transiting tankers and other ships carrying dangerous cargoes to avoid vulnerable areas of the Irish coastline at distances ranging from at least 20 miles. We have developed our proposals within the spirit of existing international guidelines and with full regard to the need to ensure that such measures are introduced and co-ordinated on a Community-wide basis. I will, therefore, be urging the Commission to advance its work in this area at all possible speed. In the meantime, I am confident of a favourable and constructive response from the Commission and the IMO to our proposals to protect the Irish coastline.

In addition to the preventive measures which I have outlined, I am keeping under review our state of readiness for effective intervention in the event of a marine casualty. The Irish Marine Emergency Service has responsibility for the co-ordination, at national level, of the Marine Counter Pollution Response and Safety of Life at Sea. In addition to its own direct capabilities, IMES can call on a wide range of State and private services to supplement its resources in the event of a marine emergency. The deployment of resources is as critical as the level of resources available. Exercises to test national response procedures for marine emergencies, including communications exercise and simulated in-port exercise have been undertaken and further exercises are planned. IMES has also been closely involved in recent major simulated marine pollution exercises undertaken by oil companies in Dublin Bay and off Tusker which involved all relevant agencies and authorities. In addition there are marine pollution response procedures in place at EC level under which the Community Task Force may be called on to assist with expertise and equipment in combating pollution threats in Irish waters.

The Irish Marine Emergency Service as constituted provides a significant response capability in the event of a marine emergency both with regard to saving life and protecting the environment. That capability is, as I have said, under constant review. I would stress again, however, the importance I attach to preventive measures and early warning systems to ensure that the risks of a major marine casualty around our coasts are minimised.

I want to thank the Minister for his long reply. I am delighted to hear him say he recognises that prevention is better than cure. Will he and his Department lead the charge against those who have scant regard for the environment and our fishing industry when it comes to polluting, to dumping at sea, to oil companies transporting oil. Unfortunately, there have been some casualties and it would appear to the layman that these tankers are becoming increasingly bigger and that fewer people are employed on them. This should not be entirely about profit. Those who are involved in the ownership of these tankers can well afford to have adequate staffing. It is in that area that I would ask the Minister, at EC level, to raise this matter of staffing on board ships of a particular size carrying certain substances, a factor which must have a bearing on the number of casualties now happening at sea.

I share the Deputy's concern about this matter and intend going to Brussels to see Commissioner Matutes to outline our view on this issue because, as the Deputy has rightly pointed out, there are tankers plying the seas at present that are obsolete and, in fact, dangerous. It is with this in mind that we see a 20 mile limit as the safety net for tankers transiting our waters. I, and I am sure the Deputy, would not want to wake up some morning to the nightmare of a tanker aground off the Stag's Head or Mizen Head.

Let me ask the Minister to take up the issue of the flags of convenience problem which is really the most serious aspect in regard to contol of pollution. In the vast majority of instances it is the ships over which the EC have no control, those sailing under flags of convenience, which cause pollution and, indeed, have crews which are not fully trained and that are exploited to an appalling degree in terms of conditions, wages etc.

Again I share the Deputy's concern about this issue. At the last European Council meeting I took up this very matter with the Commission and outlined our views on it. I felt it was necessary to put down a marker that we would not accept such exploitation. The Deputy can be assured that the issue will be raised again at our next meeting on transport and safety.