I will continue from where I finished last Wednesday.
The Bill extends Irish civil law jurisdiction to the matters covered by the convention and protocol so that parties here, including the State, can invoke the convention in Irish courts in claiming compensation under it, in the first instance, from the ship owner and, in the final analysis, from an international fund operated by IMO and funded by a levy on imports of the materials in question into states which are party to the convention.
A ship owner may limit his or her liability to the amount prescribed in the convention and fire-proof his or her vessel against arrest by lodging security for that amount with the court. This amount varies according to the tonnage of the vessel but is in any event limited to about €140 million. Up to €350 million compensation is available in all under the proposed arrangements in respect of any one incident.
The two-tier compensation arrangement mirrors that which applies to oil pollution. As with oil, contributions to the international fund are to be made by those who import the substances in question. On the basis of available information it is not expected that contributions from Irish importers to the fund will be significant.
The Bill is essentially technical in nature. The definitions and descriptions set out in the convention were agreed and adopted following consideration by experts at the International Maritime Organisation.
Deputies will note that for ease of reference a copy of the HNS convention is set out in Schedule 1 and the LLMC in Schedule 2 of the Bill. It must be viewed, however, in the context of the legislative and other measures which have been introduced in the past 15 or so years and in particular since 1997.
The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has adopted as a strategic goal the protection and preservation of the marine environment. Central to this strategy is the protection of the overall marine ecosystem, the maintenance of the highest standards in the quality of our marine waters, the prevention of pollution at sea around our coasts and the provision of a rapid response to pollution incidents to minimise damage.
The Government is anxious that our legislation complies with accepted EU and international standards while addressing specific Irish concerns. The Government accordingly recognises that action at EU and international level is an essential element of any strategy for the protection of the marine environment and to that end continues to participate fully in the activities of relevant organisations, including the International Maritime Organisation, the OSPAR Commission and the Bonn Convention.
In December 1997 four sets of regulations were made under the Sea Pollution Act, 1991 to give effect to provisions of the IMO convention for the prevention of pollution from ships. Work is under way to adopt further provisions of MARPOL concerning the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships and the prevention of air pollution from ships.
The Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Act, 1998, was enacted in May 1998. The Act – one of those to which I referred earlier – strengthens the law in relation to oil pollution by bringing it in line with current international conventions. As with many other instruments relating to maritime safety and the marine environment, these conventions are currently the subject of discussion and assessment at EU and international level in the wake of the Erika incident which occurred off the coast of Brittany in December 1999.
Measures have been agreed or are under consideration in relation to the regulation of ship classification societies, the accelerated phasing-out of single-hull oil tankers, the strengthening of port state control measures and ship reporting arrangements. Work on preparing a Bill to give effect to internationally agreed compensation levels for victims of oil pollution incidents is well advanced.
Building on the arrangements adopted in respect of oil tankers and vessels carrying hazardous substances, a convention was adopted at international level in relation to civil liability in respect of pollution from spills of bunker oil – oil carried other than as cargo. Work on a Bill to give effect to this convention is proceeding.
The Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act, 1999 was enacted in June 1999. The Act gives effect in Irish law to the International Maritime Organisation's Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Convention. Arrangements are in train to formally accede to the convention. The Act provides for the preparation of oil pollution emergency plans by harbour authorities, operators of offshore installations and oil handling facilities and for their submission to the Minister for approval. It also provides that the Minister may direct a local authority to prepare and submit such a plan for approval.
The IMO in March 2000 adopted a protocol to OPRC providing for response measures similar to those for oil pollution to apply in respect of HNS. Work on a Bill which includes giving effect to the protocol is also at an advanced stage. The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic, came into force internationally in March 1998 following ratification by all of the contracting parties. A major assessment of the status of the marine environment of the whole north-east Atlantic was carried out by OSPAR and published in December 2000. The quality status report – QSR – describes the main impacts of human activities on the marine environment and evaluates the effectiveness of measures that have already been implemented to tackle those impacts. The publication of the report follows assessments which were carried out at national and regional levels in the past two years. For this purpose the OSPAR area was divided into five regions. Ireland and the UK were responsible in respect of preparing assessment for region III, known as the Celtic Seas region. In the first instance Ireland prepared its own QSR. This involved several Departments and agencies and was published by the Marine Institute in 1999. The second stage involved a joint UK - Ireland QSR for the region. The final stage of the process involved fusion of all five regional reports into a single QSR for the entire area.
The assessment found that the Irish marine environment was generally in a healthy state but that there was no room for complacency; that particular attention would need to be paid to the scale of coastal development, pollution from rivers, sewage disposal and the atmosphere. My colleagues in Government and I share the concerns of many of our citizens at the continued operation of the nuclear facility at Sellafield in the north-west of England. These concerns were most recently brought into focus by the recent shipment of materials from Japan to Sellafield.
My opinion, and that of Government on this issue is clear – we oppose the very existence of the Sellafield facility and the transportation of its radioactive material through the Irish sea. The continued existence of Sellafield and the use of the Irish Sea by BNFL as a nuclear fuel highway is a threat to the well being of the Irish people. It must be shut because of its safety history and because of the historic lack of transparency with regard to accidents and operations at the complex. Regarding the recent shipment of MOX fuel pellets from Japan, my main concerns, which were brought to the attention of the UK Authorities by my Department were to ensure that the vessels did not pass through Irish waters, to ensure that the highest possible levels of safety were applied both in terms of the vessels employed and the operational requirements applied to them. Arrangements are in place with both the UK and France that Ireland will be notified in advance of shipment dates, of the nature of cargoes and all other relevant details. My Department was notified in accordance with these arrangements in advance of the recent shipment.
The Government has the capability to respond to any incident and was aware of the vessels' location once they entered the Irish Sea. I am pleased to confirm that the vessels did not enter waters under Ireland's jurisdiction. With regard to future shipments, the question of imposing a ban on the passage of ships carrying nuclear materials remains very difficult, given the right of passage enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, the Government will continue to pursue all legal routes to address a number of concerns with regard to Sellafield and shipments, will press in all international fora, for the application of the highest possible standards to the vessels and casks used in the shipments, and ensure that all necessary protections of preparedness, response and co-operation are in place should an accident or incident occur.
In respect of the MOX plant, we are currently suing the United Kingdom under both the OSPAR convention and the UNCLOS convention. The case under the OSPAR convention is before an international arbitration tribunal sitting in The Hague this week. We expect the case to last for the rest of the week. The judgment is expected in a few months time. We are attempting to obtain reports from the British concerning the economic justification of the MOX plant. The UK authorities have deleted important information from the publicly released versions of these reports. We want the unabridged versions so that we can gauge the impact or likely impact of the MOX facility on the Irish Sea and objectively assess the UK justification of the MOX facility. The bottom line is that, if MOX is justifiable, why will the UK not provide this information? Of what is it scared?
The other case – which is being brought under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, concerns alleged UK breaches of the Convention in relation to MOX. The Government is using every forum and means open to it to shut MOX and the reprocessing facility at Sellafield. We will continue to do so until the nuclear complex is made safe, permanently.
The report of the task force on the dumping of radioactive materials in the maritime area was published in January 2000. The key conclusion of the report was that the risk to human health and to marine life from past radioactive dumping is extremely low and does not constitute a health hazard. The Government shares the concerns of many members of the public in this regard and is anxious that they should be allayed as far as possible. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, together with the universities, is continuing monitoring and other work in this sphere. In December 2000, the European Union adopted a directive on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues. The purpose of the directive is to improve the availability and use of port reception facilities for such waste. Regulations are being prepared as required by the EU to give effect to the directive in Irish law by December 2002 and to have arrangements made for implementation.
Returning to the Bill now before us, a diplomatic conference, convened by the IMO, adopted the HNS convention in May 1996. The Convention has not yet entered into force. It will not enter into force until 18 months after both of the following criteria have been fulfilled. First, at least 12 states must have expressed their consent to be bound by the convention, typically through ratification or accession – this must include four states, each with a registered fleet of at least two million units of gross tonnage – more than ten times the size of the Irish fleet. Second, contributors in the states that have ratified or acceded to the convention must, between them, receive a minimum of 40 million tonnes of contributing cargo covered by the general account.
Periodically, informal meetings have been held to discuss the implementation of the HNS convention. States attending these meetings agreed that it would be desirable to co-ordinate their ratification of the convention. EU member states at the transport council in December 2000 undertook to prepare the necessary legislation in this regard as soon as possible. I am committed to meeting this undertaking, not least to ensure, in view of the importance of our marine resource, that Ireland is in a position to benefit from the terms of the convention as soon as it comes into force. As has been emphasised in the recent studies to which I have referred, there is no room for complacency as far as the protection of the marine environment is concerned. We must continue to build on our achievements in order to get the full benefit of the measures we have introduced.
The Bill now before us is an important part of the process of advancement undertaken at national, EU and international level in order to protect the quality of the marine environment. I know that Deputies from all parties share this objective and I accordingly look forward to your comments. In the meantime I will conclude by strongly recommending this Bill to the House.