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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Nov 2002

Vol. 557 No. 3

Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I believe it is agreed that I am sharing time with members of the Technical Group.

Following on from my earlier comments on the Bill, I wish to reinforce my party's sense of the importance of the marine sector and its potential and, consequently, the importance of this Bill to protect our marine resources. There has been a failure in this country for many years to realise the resource we have. The marine potential has not been developed in various forms of aquaculture, energy resources of a wind, wave or tidal nature, tourism possibilities and fishing resources. It would appear from current developments at EU level that we have misused those resources and are now facing a bleak situation. However, that can be turned around if we look to the sea to a much greater extent as a source of our livelihood, wealth and resources. That underlines the importance of this Bill in protecting our marine resources.

The key issue is how we enforce the provisions of the Bill. I have not heard any disagreement with its contents. I wish to raise three topics which I regard as pertinent. The three main recommendations of the recent study on the need for a marine tug vessel have not been implemented yet. There is a strong case for placing a significant tug vessel on the western seaboard, probably in the Shannon area. On the eastern seaboard, it probably makes sense for us to work with Britain in terms of common coverage. Other speakers have referred to the dangers from shipments of MOX nuclear fuels through the Irish Sea. Apart from simply standing on the shore and shouting abuse across the Irish Sea, we need to take positive measures to show we are serious about protecting our environment. It is instructive to note the recent incident off the coast of Scotland, where a nuclear submarine ran aground and could have had dramatic effects.

The introduction of a proper vessel mapping service in Irish waters is important. I urge the Minister to proceed at full haste with such a system for the benefit of shipping and fishery protection. It would also signify that this country is serious about its responsibilities in relation to the marine. The third recommendation related to the protection of the Donegal and Galway coasts, because of their special ecosystem, by creating an exclusion zone. I understand that was turned down by the international marine institutions. However, the Government should go back and fight our case again as those areas are an important tourism resource. A chemical or oil spill or other such incident on our coastline would have serious consequences for tourism, which is one of our biggest industries. Visitors to Ireland are particularly attracted to our coastline, much as some of my colleagues from the midlands might like to take them there.

I urge the Government to act quickly on those three recommendations. We cannot say we are taking our marine industry and its potential seriously unless we resource our coastguard properly and unless we have the proper co-ordination at our ports to manage spills and leaks. I realise there have been some good developments, such as investment in a sea-bed survey and the development of the coastguard, but that should be extended further. Thirty or 40 years from now a huge proportion of the wealth of this country will come from our relationship with the sea. On a 50 year timescale, investment in facilities such as a marine tug vessel, coupled with legislation such as this Bill, is the right approach. While the Minister may have to convince the Minister for Finance of the justification for expenditure on a tug vessel, the long-term economic and social argument for investing in the protection of the marine is irrefutable. The key indicator of how the Department performs is how it resources the protection of the marine and how we invest in new marine services and industries. I welcome the Bill and the chance to raise those brief points again.

I am delighted to see Deputy Browne in the House. He is a fellow Deputy from County Wexford and a man who is well aware of the feelings of fishermen in the county towards a number of issues, especially now that we face a serious problem with the EU and our territorial waters. Deputy Browne would also be aware of recent pollution problems in the estuary off Waterford Port.

Bills like this are important. Any legislation which improves the environment, both on land and at sea, is welcome. The Bill covers certain aspects of this agenda. If it helps to improve world-wide awareness of our environment it is even more important. Unfortunately, a Bill enacted into law is of no use unless it is enforceable and transparent. Any Bill to improve the environment, including this one, should be enforceable.

We have a huge pharmaceutical industry. It is interesting to note that three drugs in the news headlines, Seroxat which was the subject of a recent "Panorama" programme, Lipitor which was highlighted for its positive benefits for heart disease and Viagra, which is self-explanatory, are all manufactured in Ireland. All of these drugs are made from raw chemical ingredients which are shipped into the country in massive amounts. They are transported on the seas surrounding our island and are entering and leaving our ports every day. The combined resources of the Garda, EPA and the local authorities cannot prevent the massive illegal dumping of recent years. We have much legislation on this matter also but we seem to have become reactive rather that proactive.

It is interesting to look at how we are going to enforce this Bill. For the purpose of the Act an inspector can stop and board any ship and examine it. A member of the Garda or a navy officer could be described as an inspector but have they the resources to police our waters to prevent sea pollution under the Bill? We must consider the future role of the navy if we hope to provide any meaningful role, not only under this Bill, but also in terms of acts at sea and proper fishery protection. It is incumbent on the State to enforce the Bill on any ship which enters our territorial waters, ports or offshore facilities.

Trade nowadays is international as is financial insurance. It will be difficult to police this section also. The ships which enter our ports may have insurance from their own state. It will be difficult to know if this is enforceable.

We should be looking beyond the liability and compensation aspects of the Bill to how to police aspects of our environment, especially our seas. The Bill has quite specific provisions for compensation when accidents happen but we have few resources to police our waters at present. The Naval Service is barely able to keep up with illegal fishing. What changes will occur to make even part of the Bill enforceable?

The Government should fight for our rights to our territorial waters in their dealings with the EU. We should not give up our fishing rights because the Spanish and French fishermen have denuded their waters of fish. We should not give them an opportunity to do the same to our waters.

We welcome this debate. For the first time legislation on this issue is being added to the Statute Book. It is important that the international convention is signed by as many states as possible. The passage of legislation is often slow and cumbersome but it is disappointing that only 12 states have signed the convention six years after it was initially negotiated. Only two have brought empowering legislation into force. There is the added problem that we are effectively putting the convention into a legal code which we did not negotiate.

There are many good aspects to this convention and it is much needed. However, Sinn Féin has concerns which I am sure will be shared by many others. The Irish Sea and St. George's Channel are busy waterways, not just for Irish but for international shipping traffic. British Nuclear Fuels proposes to transport across these waters spent and reprocessed fuel rods, not just from the MOX plant, but also from the THORP plant. If these plants ever came to operate anything near the capacity planned by British Nuclear Fuels there would be a huge increase in the amount of dangerous traffic in Irish territorial waters. An accident off the coast of France could have a large negative impact on the Irish coastline, so the impact of one in the Irish Sea would be enormous. In this context I ask if the amounts of financial compensation are realistic. It is envisaged in the convention that ship owners would be liable for only the first St£100 million and after that compensation would be paid from the hazardous noxious substances fund, up to St£250 million. Given that the convention was signed up to in 1996, are the fiscal amount of compensation still adequate to cover any conceivable pollution disasters?

It is clear that the convention was negotiated with oil and gas products in mind as most international maritime accidents involve spillages of crude oil and other petroleum products. Our concern is with these potential hazards and the obvious danger posed by nuclear traffic in and out of the Sellafield facility.

The Bill excludes certain types of nuclear activity. This seems strange, either material is hazardous or it is not. Warships and navy and government vessels are excluded from the convention. This is of particular concern to Irish citizens as it is well known that British, NATO and even Russian submarines regularly travel through Irish waters. The scale of unaccountable trawler sinkings in recent years is a testament to the nature of activities and dangers which these vessels pose to commercial shipping. However, the Bill imposes no conditions or liabilities on these vessels which are powered by nuclear reactors and which often carry nuclear weapons.

This Bill is also reactive in that it sets out what must be done in the aftermath of an accident. The International Maritime Organisation, a UN agency with responsibility for safety of shipping and the prevention of maritime pollution, has a protocol on preparedness, response and co-operation on pollution incidents. Why is it not included in the Bill? It would enshrine into law a positive obligation not just to respond to emergencies, but to make sure that they never happen if proper procedures are in place. Does it apply to naval vessels excluded from liability under the convention?

The Bill allows for the appointment of inspectors with the powers to board and detain ships. Will the Naval Service carry our this work? Has it the capacity, given its vital fisheries protection and drug detection tasks, to take on this extra work? The Bill claims that there would be no additional Exchequer cost incurred in its passing. We do not ask that it be held up but has the extra workload on the navy or other state bodies been properly thought out? If the policing of the Act when it comes into force is going to be without cost, is there a mysterious team of little green volunteers who will not need funding or payment to sustain homes, etc.? Even if these free, voluntary personnel are available to police the Act how will they get out to visit the ships which are in our territorial waters but not coming into our ports? It is not feasible to suggest that we can swim out to large tankers, or approach them on surfboards. I anticipate that we will put down some amendments to this Bill on Committee Stage and I look forward to further discussion of it.

I welcome the Bill. It is important that the raft of legislation introduced by the Government to deal with issues like pollution and safety at sea is strengthened.

I represent County Cork which, along with County Kerry, has a sad history of pollution and abandoned shipwrecks. The Ranga was washed up off the Kerry coast near Slea Head more than 20 years ago. The Bardini Reefer was abandoned and scuttled in the channel between Bear Island and the Beara Peninsula. It remains in the channel and is to the detriment to fishing. Will the Minister tell the House if this wreck will be broken up and removed from the channel? It has been a matter of concern to fishermen and the people of Bear Island for almost 20 years. The infamous iron ore carrier Kowloon Bridge was a massive tanker that came into Bantry Bay for shelter in the 1980s. The 12-man crew was airlifted off in stormy conditions and the rudderless ship eventually hit the Stags Rocks off the coast of west Cork. It sank in rich spawning grounds for herring and remains there to this day. It will probably still be there long after I have passed away.

The Tribulus was another oil tanker that came into Bantry Bay for shelter after it was holed and stayed for three or four months. Luckily enough, the company concerned was viable and repaired the tanker after some weeks. The vessel was eventually removed without having done too much damage, although there was some pollution. In fairness, compensation was paid to Cork County Council at that time for the cost of cleaning up the mess. Without wishing to seem parochial, the greatest oil spills off our coastline occurred in Bantry Bay in the 1970s when a tanker leaked and, later, when a substandard valve in the oil terminal caused huge amounts of oil to spill. It took many months to clean up after the latter incident. I am sure these two spills would rank among the ten most serious oil spills in world history. I refer to these accidents to highlight the vulnerability of the south-west coast. If we analyse the shipping lanes from South and Central America to Europe, we will find that the busiest lanes pass by the Fastnet Rock. There is a huge level of activity along the south-west coast.

I wonder if this or any Bill can deal with problems such as those which developed after the incident involving the Kowloon Bridge, which nobody seemed to own. If the vessel had missed the Stags Rocks that night, it would probably have run aground at Ardmore. It would be still resting there, although it may have broken up in that location. Similar difficulties arose when the Bardini Reefer was scuttled. Is legislation in place to prevent similar occurrences or to enable us to clear up the mess after such shipwrecks? This is a matter of critical importance.

I will emphasise a point made by Deputy Eamon Ryan regarding the provision of an emergency towing vessel, or ETV, as recommended following the Irish emergency towing vessel study three or four years ago. I feel strongly that a new ETV should be provided. The report, commissioned by the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, said that the primary role of an ETV would be to provide a towing service to minimise oil pollution off the Irish coastline resulting from stranded vessels. The study's objectives included analysing vessel traffic within the Irish pollution responsibility zone, or IRPZ, which is of critical importance. It also determined the commercial and environmental resources at greatest risk from pollution associated with maritime activities and investigated the State's legal position regarding liability and jurisdiction pertinent to maritime pollution within the IPRZ. It examined the capabilities of ETVs and the design specifications required for operation within the IPRZ.

Importantly, the study attempted to determine the optimum location for ETV deployment to minimise the identified risks. In this regard, it is crucial that we seriously consider locating the ETV vessel in a place like Bantry Bay. A previous speaker mentioned the Shannon Estuary in this context, but three or four tug boats operate in the estuary as a consequence of the volume of maritime traffic there. Some of the tug boats are ocean-going and are therefore capable of covering the west coast. Given that there is a revamped oil storage depot at Whiddy Island, Bantry Bay can play a pivotal role in protecting the entire south-west coast. It is intended to significantly increase the volume of traffic to the Whiddy Island terminal, which holds our national reserve of crude oil, bunker oil, diesel and similar noxious, dangerous and potentially polluting products. It makes sense to locate an ETV vessel in Bantry Bay in the event of increased traffic in the region. Bantry Bay is 16 miles deep and seven miles wide and has harboured the largest ships in the world. The ETV could play a dual role; it could be seconded for use at the terminal and it could protect the south-west coastline. My suggestion deserves serious consideration.

Regardless of where the ETV is located, it is vital that we obtain an ocean-going tug vessel to act in times of emergency, such as the Kowloon Bridge incident. An ETV could have safely shepherded the Kowloon Bridge to sea. We need to protect our coastline from the potential dangers of huge ore carriers, bulk tankers and other vessels. I urge the Minister, therefore, to put in place an ETV as soon as possible.

I welcome yesterday's establishment of a Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The committee will have huge significance in the area of marine legislation and will discuss marine issues. I have felt strongly for some time about the level of importance given to marine issues at committee level and I raised the matter at a meeting of my parliamentary party two years ago. It seemed as if 95% of the time of the former Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine was spent discussing agricultural matters and only 5% of our time was given to marine affairs. I am glad the chairman of the new committee has made clear that significant time will be provided to debate marine issues. I welcome the fact that representatives of a number of organisations will attend next week's meeting of the committee to discuss a number of matters, particularly the protection of the Irish box.

This is a significant Bill in the context of a plethora of legislation in the past ten years aimed at protecting our coastline and enhancing the safety of our regions. Some say that the Mayo and Donegal coastline is of particular eco significance, but all our coastline, including Wexford, Cork or Kerry, is of great significance to our tourism industry and must be protected at all times. The Bill when enacted will form a solid line of defence as far as our coastline is concerned.

I welcome the Bill. In addition to the other legislation introduced by the outgoing Government since 1997, this Bill is very significant and appropriate. A huge raft of work has been done by the Irish Marine Rescue Service in regard to safety at sea for vessels up and down the coastline. The enactment of this legislation will help to copperfasten the safety of our waters which must be protected. I understand separate legislation to deal with the transportation of nuclear waste from the MOX plant and so on will be introduced. I hope this legislation will be introduced as soon as possible. A Deputy asked why was that aspect not included in this Bill or is it of such importance that it needs legislation of its own? I commend the Bill to the House.

Luaigh an Teachta romham pointe an-mhaith ansin, gur chóir connadh MOX a luaigh sa Bhille práinneach seo mar gheall ar an damáiste a thig leis a dhéanamh ar an fharraige in aice lenár dtír. Is rud tábhachtach é ó thaobh timpeallachta de. Má tharlóidh timpiste leis an ábhar sin, ní mbeimid fiú ábalta iascaireacht ná rud ar bith eile i Muir Éireann go ceann na mílte bliana. Ba cheart go mbeadh an Rialtas sásta leasú a chur sa Bhille sula mbeidh sé críochnaithe sna Tithe agus agus go mbeadh sé sásta an ghníomh sin faoi connadh MOX a dhéanamh. Níl rud ar bith againn muna bhfuil an timpeallacht againn, muna a bhfuil sé sláintiúl, ní amháin in Éirinn ach i Sasana, fósta.

This is a very important Bill. The last point made by Deputy O'Donovan is very important. By the time the Bill has gone through the Houses of the Oireachtas, we should be able to deal expeditiously with the movement of ships carrying MOX fuels and other nuclear fuels up and down the Irish Sea. At 4.15 p.m. last Thursday, Deputy Gay Mitchell raised in the House the question of HMS Trafalgar, the British nuclear submarine which went aground off the Isle of Skye. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries and, more importantly, there was no leak of radioactive material into the sea. Apparently the British submarine was on a military exercise and the English media, including Sky News and ITN, reported at the time that a trainee was in charge, which is utterly shameful. At the very least the Government must insist on the British Government that when its ships, particularly nuclear submarines – obviously they would travel in English rather than Irish waters – travel in international waters, first, they would not be armed and would not carry nuclear material and, second, a competent and qualified crew would be in charge. I am not sure what notification we get of these movements. There would be nothing more explosive than an accident such as the one that occurred off the Isle of Skye.

The biggest threat to our seas is nuclear material. The Irish Sea is deemed to be the most radioactive sea in the world. This is the case because British Nuclear Fuels Limited has continued for many decades to pump into the Irish Sea low level radioactive waste. An idea is currently being canvassed which the Government must oppose – it was canvassed at a conference I recently attended. The theory is that because of our concerns in Ireland for the way liquid waste at Sellafield is stored on site, a potential deal is being spoken about. The deal would be that British Nuclear Fuels Limited would increase the rate with which it vitrifies the liquid waste stored on site and reduce the timescale, which is currently around 2015, by a number of years. This would obviously mean there would be a reduced risk of an accident on site at Sellafield.

The quid pro quo would be that they would increase their discharges of technetium 99 into the Irish Sea, which is not an acceptable solution to the problem. If discharges of radioactive material into the Irish Sea are increased, no matter how low or what the experts tell us, the Irish Sea, in particular Irish shell fish, would be polluted by hundreds of times greater amounts of technetium 99. While we are told this substance will not kill, it certainly will not cure one. The Government must be much more assertive and aggressive with the British Government in regard to pollution of the Irish Sea with hazardous and dangerous substances. There can be nothing more hazardous or dangerous than radioactive material which lasts for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years.

Another equally important issue is the change in the world since 11 September last year. Prior to that date, the American destroyer, USS Cole, was attacked by al-Qaeda in the Middle East and 17 men on board died as a result of the incident. It took approximately 14 months to repair the ship so that it could sail again. We paid a lot of attention to the incident at the time but after 11 September insufficient attention has been paid, particularly by the British Government, to the transportation of MOX fuel up and down the Irish Sea. There was an infamous shipment of shame for British Nuclear Fuels Limited when the fuel it falsified and sent to Japan recently had to return through the Irish Sea. It said that armed police and so on were on board that ship. I believe, however, that the ship was not protected by military escort or warships.

Any MOX fuel cargo being transported up and down the Irish Sea should at the very least have either military or naval ships in attendance to ensure there is not an event like that of the USS Cole or what happened last month in the Middle East when a massive petrol tanker was blown up by al-Qaeda.

I am very concerned about these incidents and the lack of action on the part of the British Government. It has a laid back laissez faire attitude to the transport of dangerous goods on the Irish Sea. It is incumbent on the Government, in the full and certain knowledge shared by all of us of the danger posed by al-Qaeda to shipping all over the world, that it ensures the most potentially hazardous substance of all should not be allowed to travel up and down the Irish sea. I was not happy with the response of the Government and the Department of Defence, which runs the Naval Service, during the controversy over the MOX shipments. We should have had, at the very least, visible monitoring of the flotilla of ships. The Government said it was monitoring the transport, but there was no physical presence on the Irish sea. It does not have to be threatening: we should show by our presence on the sea at these times how we feel about this transport. I ask the Government what the British would be doing if the situation was reversed and the plant was in Ireland. They would be doing a lot more than this Government has done.

The question of security of ships, particularly passenger ships, has been in the foreground since the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, spoke this week about the real and present danger that exists. There have been reports that al-Qaeda is prepared to bring a lorry laden with explosives on board a ferry and blow it up in the middle of the sea. I would like to know what action this Government is taking to prevent such an incident on ships coming to and from Ireland. The transport of noxious substances that we know about is one thing, but the attempted carrying of unknown substances is something to which we must give serious consideration. I would like the Minister in his reply to give a commitment, without going into detail, that all ferries leaving or coming into this country will be obliged to pass the most stringent and rigorous security test possible in order to determine whether any of the heavily-laden lorries and containers are carrying explosive substances.

I am not an expert on this matter but there are experts in this field. What is the Government doing about it? It is a real and present threat and one for which we have been told we must prepare. We should not assume that al-Qaeda will not target Irish ships or goods transports or, God forbid, our cities or countryside. We must be alert to the dangers and should not underestimate the abilities of these people who do not fear losing their lives.

The Irish sea is the most radioactive in the world. In the context of this Bill and of the damage done to our environment and to our fish, particularly our shellfish, what action will the Government take to effect a reduction, if possible, in discharges of nuclear waste into the Irish Sea? What would happen if a tragic event caused pollution of our sea for hundreds of years? How does this Bill deal with compensation? We are talking about limitless damage, something we could not even contemplate, which worries me. Our marine industry could be destroyed. Already, the fishing industry is suffering. If I go to Kerry or the west on my holidays and tell people I am from County Louth, they ask whether I eat the fish there. Medical experts tell us there is no reason not to eat the fish, but people are still concerned. If there was a spectacular and tragic event, as al-Qaeda wants, how would we deal with it? It is a very important question which I hope the Minister will answer in his reply.

The other issues pale into insignificance compared with these. I welcome the good points in this Bill, although there are gaps, especially in the Government's plans for dealing with the incidents I mentioned. We must always act to protect our environment and this is the most important aspect of the Bill. People who pollute our environment will be made to pay dearly and that is to be welcomed. Tá tuairimí an-mhaith á nochtadh sa díospóireacht seo ar gach taobh. Tá rudaí an-mhaith sa mBille ach tá rudaí tábhachtacha nach bhfuil ann fosta. Tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh an tAire macnamh dian ar na rudaí a deir Teachtaí anseo agus nuair a bheas an Bille críochnaithe, go mbeidh an mhuir agus an timpeallacht níos fearr agus níos sabháilte ná mar a d'fhéadfaidís a bheith.

I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words on this Bill. As I come from a county with a coastline of 300 miles, the Bill is of particular importance to me. As someone who spends some time on the Kerry coastline, especially on beaches such as Ballybunion and Banna, I am only too aware of the threat posed by pollution to these and to the whole coastline as well as to marine life. There are about 100 species of fish off the coast of Kerry. It is one of our greatest resources, although it has not been exploited. As a nation we have not fully capitalised on it. The coastline is also very suitable for marine activities such as surfing – some of the best surfing waters in Europe are in places like the Maharees – as well as canoeing, sailing and so on. This Bill has particular relevance because it is so important to protect our coastline and the waters off the coast and because Ireland has about 16% of European waters.

I often marvel at the level of sea pollution. I am not just talking about oil pollution, with the occasional slick being deposited on the beach. If one walks along Ballybunion beach after high tide one sees material which is obviously not native to north Kerry deposited along the shore. It comes mostly from fishing vessels and others using the Shannon estuary.

Those in charge of ships, of the captain and the crew, should be more responsible. An attitude prevails that if one dumps material at sea it will not end up onshore, but that is not always the case. Indiscriminate dumping of material from vessels using our waters should be examined and discouraged. The types of materials that come ashore are not materials used locally. They are not waste materials typically found in Kerry; they have come ashore having been dumped from ships using our waters.

Given that the Shannon Estuary is one of our biggest estuaries, that oil and other materials are transported up the estuary, especially to Tarbert power station, Aughinish Island and Shannon Airport, the estuary is a busy waterway having regard to the major demand placed on it by various industries. That is why I expressed concern in this regard in Kerry County Council in the past, but it is powerless to do anything about this other than to clean up pollution when there is an incidence of oil pollution. Our waters and tourism industry are always under threat from an incidence of oil pollution. For example, there are various resorts on the Clare and Kerry sides of the Shannon Estuary. There are golf courses which have been recently developed and golf courses such as Ballybunion and Barrow. There is also the marine life and the vast potential of our waters that is underexploited and undercapitalised.

For that reason, I am delighted to welcome the Bill. I hope it will have full effect and will act as a disincentive to sheepowners to be the source and cause of sea pollution. The Minister might refer to other forms of pollution from vessels that use our waters. What deterrents exist to prevent sea pollution? What type of monitoring is in place to prevent an irresponsible attitude to the offloading of hazardous materials from vessels using our waters?

The cleaning out of oil and other vessels is another practice that took place in the Shannon Estuary. Sea water was used to rinse out tankers whereby they would dip into the sea and, on re-emerging, release the sea water which would then be polluted. What provisions are in place to prevent that practice? Is that practice of using sea water to wash out tankers that would have deposited their loads along the Shannon Estuary, in Shannon Airport, Foynes or Tarbert illegal?

Do the provisions of this Bill relate to coal pollution in the same way as to pollution from oil and other substances, given that there are also major shipments of coal up the Shannon Estuary to service Moneypoint? I am sure they do, but I would appreciate if the Minister would clarify that point. For example, on one occasion 240,000 tonnes of coal was carried on the Bargemaster– one of the biggest ships in the world – up the Shannon Estuary some years ago. If there had been an accident at sea on that occasion, who would have been responsible? Will the provisions of this Bill cover an accident at sea in the case of large coal carriers?

For the reasons I outlined and given that I live in a maritime county with 300 miles of coastline and the fact that we have such an important resource underdeveloped, unexploited and undercapitalised, this is important legislation. There is also the broader question of the development of our waterways, which does not relate to this Bill. This Bill protects our waters for the future. If our waters remain clean and unpolluted, that will provide us with an opportunity to develop this resource. As agriculture is declining, the sea and the possibilities it affords us to obtain food from different sources will become more attractive.

I am glad to speak on this Bill because I, too, live along the west coast. Our coastline is extremely important, given that we do not have the necessary infrastructure or industry. We must protect our coastline at all costs. All of us will recall terrible incidents of oil pollution from tankers. Massive oil tankers, which carry as much oil as possible in order to make the maximum profit, travel around our coast. As in the case of aeroplanes in our airspace, we do not see them, but they are off our coast. If shortcuts are taken and perchance something goes wrong, we are the ones who will pay the price, and a terrible price we will pay. This Bill is eminently suitable for the Ireland of today. It is more than that, it is a necessity. The Bill addresses a critical matter that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. That matter needs to be addressed and that is why I welcome the Bill and greatly support it.

The Bill is essential for today because we are endeavouring to carry out our collective responsibility as a modern nation in a global village which is getting smaller by the day. The world is often described as a big pond, which it is, but like a big pond if things go wrong, every organism in the pond feels the knock-on effect. We are like soap on a rope. We are at the end or in the middle of the global village, depending on how one looks at it. It behoves us to do our own housekeeping. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to everybody who depends on the sea and to future generations to keep our part of the house in order in terms of the larger scale of things. We are endeavouring to carry out our collective responsibility and to play our part in protecting ourselves and our environment from the hazards that exist and greatly threaten our modern world.

There is no doubt but that we are under great threat. There is not a day goes by that we do not hear of some terrible incident that reminds us of our vulnerability. We are in a precarious situation.

As stated on "Seascapes" every week, we are an island nation and depend on the sea all around us. We are prone to the effect of any calamity that occurs at sea. We are sitting between the rest of Europe and the Americas. We will experience the impact of any problems passing vessels may have, which poses a major threat to our coastline. If the cargo such vessels carry becomes dislodged, we will suffer the impact of such pollution.

Our fishing industry is important to us, as is our tourism industry. The west depends especially on the fishing industry. Any oil spillage could severely penalise activities in the west and paralyse everything that happens along the west coast in particular. The coasts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway have been identified as high risk marine environmental areas. Who can forget the pollution caused by the Amoco Cadiz tanker which was grounded off France in 1978? It spilled over 220,000 tonnes of crude oil. Almost 400 kilometres of the coastline of Brittany were severely polluted. We remember the pictures on television of the sea life that was destroyed, a tragedy for the fishermen on that coast. All the efforts made afterwards, such as the use of detergents, were merely closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. The grounding of the Brer tanker off the Shetland Islands in 1993 and the Sea Empress disaster off the Welsh coast in 1996 are further examples.

Recently, we have heard about oil spills in Galway. Galway seems to be better known now for its oil spills in the Claddagh than for the Claddagh itself. Many swans have suffered as a result. Ironically, there was a second oil spill two weeks after a first, when most of the swans had been taken into captivity to deal with the pollution they had already suffered. Small oil spills occur regularly and they have a major effect on our wildlife.

We have implemented many international agreements and have been pro-active in looking after our marine environment but we are still exposed to significant pollution as a result of accidents at sea. In 2000 there were 28 merchant ships and 100 offshore fishing vessels in Irish seas at any time. That number of vessels could potentially cause an enormous amount of damage. We are between the devil and the deep blue sea, to coin a pun. The time is coming when we will need not only air traffic controllers but sea traffic controllers. At the very least there is a need for marine safety information services that would be extended to incorporate the traffic management of shipping.

We have all heard about global warming and the ozone layer. Those of us from the west coast are aware that storms are getting worse. Older people say the weather is changing with gales becoming more and more severe. Dublin is almost like another country. Those gales have a serious effect on shipping. The chances of accidents occurring have increased significantly.

Shipping operators trade within a highly competitive environment and I have no doubt they cut corners. They will use the maximum number of vessels to carry the maximum amount of cargo to get the maximum profit. Many oil tankers pass our coasts but it is not only big ships that could spell disaster for us. There are small spills from onshore terminals, cargo and passenger vessels, fishing boats and other craft. While we welcome exploration for oil and gas off our coast, there is a downside and we must be vigilant about it. We should take steps to ensure no spillages occur from the oil exploration platforms.

Harbours are not equipped to deal with day-to-day spillages. Ships should not be disposing of their waste at sea; there should be facilities in ports to allow for disposal. Comparing private marinas to public harbours, however, is like comparing the public and private health services. The public service is run down and suffering from a lack of investment while the private service is flush with money and can offer a better deal. Public harbours must be upgraded.

Litter and dumping are the most common problems but oil pollution is potentially more hazardous, with serious implications for our wildlife. We must maximise marine, oil and solid waste disposal. The fines proposed in the Bill should be a deterrent to large companies that would otherwise cut corners. They must know that if things go wrong, they will pay a heavy price. If fines do not act as a deterrent, this legislation will not work. We are located at the doorstep of the major Atlantic shipping routes and the potential for tankers to cause a coastal catastrophe should be borne in mind. The past experience of other countries proves that. The Bill also provides for compulsory insurance because there are always those who will take a chance and not take out insurance. There are cowboys in every industry.

We must monitor this legislation to ensure it is effective. We saw the terrible potential consequences of the shipment to the MOX fuel plant in Sellafield. The Naval Service and Air Corps were sent out but they could only observe. Real hazards exist. The fish in the Irish Sea are so hot they no longer have to be fried. We must be aware of those hazards because we owe a debt of responsibility to the future. Enforcement must be effective.

This legislation is a step in the right direction and I hope the financial penalties will ensure deterrence is used to the greatest effect.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, on his appointment and wish him every success in his new brief.

Coming from one of the few Irish counties that has no coastline, some people might think it strange that I would speak on this Bill. Pollution, however, affects everyone in the State. Many speakers have mentioned Sellafield and the threat it poses to the environment in this country. It affects everyone, no matter where they are located. We should all be concerned about this and take interest in it.

The Bill deals with liability and compensation, following the Sea Pollution Act, 1990, and the Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act, 1998. It is difficult, however, to pursue an organisation for compensation, particularly if an incident occurs in international waters. Who should take responsibility and who is liable for the impact on the environment thousands of miles away? An action in one part of the world can have a serious impact in another.

Bio-pollution will become a greater issue in the future. I wish to deal with the issues of bio-pollution and especially ballast water which is becoming a major environmental risk to many of our ports. Large tankers carry sufficient ballast water to fill 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Hopefully, in the next few months we will have two such swimming pools here. However, it can be a Trojan horse. Ballast water is taken on board ships to maintain their stability when they are partially laden. When a ship is loaded with cargo, it empties its ballast tanks. In this way, ballast water is sucked up in one port and transported across the ocean to another port where it is discharged with any tiny stowaway organisms which may be present in it and may pose problems in the new environment in which they find themselves. In effect, this builds virtual bridges across the big natural barriers – oceans, mountain ranges – and causes the movement of species throughout the world.

For the most part, many of these organisms fail to gain a foothold in their new environment. However, there has been a handful of cases where serious ecological and economic damage has been caused by bio-pollution. The American comb jelly, similar to the jellyfish, is believed to have been transported in ballast water from the east coast of America to the Black Sea in the 1970s. It soon began competing with indigenous organisms for food, eventually crippling the local anchovy fishing industry. Similarly, in the 1980s the European zebra mussel, native to the Caspian and Black Seas, found its way to the Great Lakes of north America, where it proliferated widely causing serious fouling problems around water intake pipes in power plants and factories. In 1990, the US Federal Government pledged $11 million per year to tackle the problem. It has become a massive problem in the Great Lakes in the United States and has a huge financial impact in that part of the world. There is a belief that this bio-pollutant, the zebra mussel, has been transferred in ballast water from the Caspian and Black Seas to north America.

Ballast water can be a bio-polluter, a problem that is as old as travel itself, but it has been consistently ignored for many years. Research shows that the increased speed in recent years in transporting goods around the world and the greater efficiency of super tankers and cargo vessels means they are shipped faster around the world and there is a greater opportunity for the successful transfer of these bio-pollutants from one area to another. The speed and the efficiency with which they can transfer cargo and organisms has the effect of shrinking the size of the world. It is suspected that, as ships become faster, organisms are more likely to survive because of the shorter journey times. Some scientists believe pollution around ports may destabilise natural ecosystems, thus enabling exotic organisms to thrive. The issue of tiny aliens in ballast water may have major implications for the aquaculture industry. The aquaculture industry here has thrived over many years. In Australia substantial funding has been allocated to research in this area because of the threat posed to aquaculture. It is crucial, therefore, that we recognise the problem and set about putting in place the necessary safeguards to protect the vital assets off our coastline and the aquaculture industry. The Minister is well aware that oil tankers are probably the biggest carriers of ballast water around the world. That is one of the issues that has been debated in relation to this legislation.

In 1991 the International Maritime Organisation issued guidelines on ballast water management which were updated in 1997. These included not loading ballast water in shallow water or in areas where propellers could stir up sediment or discharging ballast water unnecessarily. The guidelines suggest that, in some cases, ballast water should be exchanged in open sea, pumping out water drawn from the port in the deep ocean and replacing it with water from the deep ocean, which is less likely to carry organisms or micro-organisms. Many organisms transferred from fresh water into the oceans cannot survive in that environment. It is a method of sterilising the ballast water in the super tankers. Other means of tackling the problem have also been investigated, including the use of heat from the ship's engines to treat the water, chemical treatment and filtration. It is crucially important these guidelines are put in place on an international statutory basis to ensure the protection of the aquaculture industry here and in many other countries around the world. The aquaculture industry is worth in the region of €76 million per annum to this country and should be protected. It is a vital sector of the economy and one that should not be ignored.

We are fortunate to have escaped in the past because of our poor trade links and the lack of utilisation of our ports. However, these ports are beginning to develop. We have had previous legislation which allows the ports to develop independently. Over time that will bring in additional volumes of traffic to those ports. We have spoken in the past about the need to develop our ports. As they develop there will be a greater risk of ballast water pollution impacting on the aquaculture industry. A good example of that has been the zebra mussel coming into many estuaries. It is crucial that we examine these issues now and not in ten years' time when they have impacted on our ecosystem. This is a serious problem and is a risk to the environment. There has not been the opportunity for this to happen in the past because our ports have not been developed to the same extent as others around the world. However, now more than ever, this is being recognised as a major pollutant. The UK has invested significantly in maritime research.

It is much easier to prevent such invasion than try to control it subsequent to the pollution arriving on our shores. We cannot recall this biopollutant once it has been released into the environment, unlike oil for which we have, to some extent, mechanisms to clean up oil pollution. It is virtually impossible to clean up bio-pollution once it happens. There are instances where, with great effort, they can be eradicated or brought under control but the cost involved is significant. It poses a significant risk to our aquaculture industry and the environment and needs to be looked at. It will probably become one of the significant pollutants of this century. As time goes by and as international trade continues it will pose an even greater risk. This is a matter of concern not only on an international basis but on national and regional bases. Statutory agreement has to be sought at international level and the law enforced here and throughout the European Union.

I hope the Minister will ask his officials to examine this area, bring proposals to his colleagues at European Union level and take it from there to the international stage. This issue has been ignored in the past and it will become an even greater threat in the future. It is imperative we address this issue now and not in ten years' time when we will be faced with a significant problem that will threaten the viability of the agricultural industry.

The issue of oil pollution was also raised during the debate. We have a huge problem regarding oil pollution of our estuaries, coastline and inland waterways. There is an added problem in our inland waterways regarding the issue of pollution. If pollution takes place along our coastline it can be diluted by way of tidal functions thus dissipating it or bringing it out to sea. We do not have such a mechanism to protect our inland waterways.

The Shannon-Erne waterway is a significant asset which if developed has the potential to create enormous income and develop a sustained economy throughout the midlands which is the blackspot of this country. We now know the poorest counties are not along the west coast, they are located in the midlands. We must look at ways of developing the facilities needed to promote and encourage investment on the Shannon-Erne waterway. It has enormous potential from a tourism point of view and in generating income in local economies. One of the problems we are faced with as we develop that sector is pollution, an issue that has been ignored to date. We have been forced, through international treaties, to look at the issue regarding our coastline and international waters but we do not have the same type of legislation in place to protect our inland waterways. I ask the Minister, in conjunction with his colleagues, to look at that issue to ensure we have in place the necessary legislation to protect our inland waterways for future generations.

Deputy O'Dowd referred earlier to Sellafield, an issue extremely close to his heart and on which he has campaigned for a considerable time. He raised the issue of the emission of technetium 99 into the Irish Sea and his concerns about a possible agreement between the British and Irish Governments in that regard. That gives rise to significant concerns.

The issue of pollution of the Irish Sea and nuclear radiation is becoming a matter of major concern. We are all aware of concerns regarding radon gas and today's newspapers carry articles regarding uranium found in wells. While we have put in place mechanisms to ensure our water supplies are not polluted we must now carry out testing of water supplies throughout the country. Where we have an opportunity to protect our environment we are faced with the possibility of the British Government, through BNFL, pumping more pollutant into the Irish Sea. The Minister must look again at this issue which is causing major concern throughout the country.

Deputy O'Dowd also raised the shipment around the world of nuclear fuel from the BNFL facility in Sellafield. A recent shipment sent to Japan with falsified documents had to be returned to Sellafield via the Irish Sea. The return of the shipment and its cargo increased the risk which Irish people face. A French oil tanker was rammed on the route taken by that shipment. The level of security provided on such shipments gives rise to serious concerns. It is now agreed, in light of the incident with the French oil tanker, there is an urgent need to put in place naval protection for such shipments. We have witnessed the number of incidents involving groups such as al-Qaeda in recent years, particularly in the past 18 months. The simplicity with which they planned their actions – they did not try to ship bombs to areas where there were large numbers of people – is significant. They can quite easily hijack a vessel and ram a cargo ship. We need to address the issue of the shipment of nuclear products. If we cannot get co-operation in this regard from our counterparts in the United Kingdom, I hope we can address this issue at European level in the immediate future.

There is enormous potential, in addressing the issue of oil pollution, to look at research regarding micro-organisms and genetic engineering to resolve much of the pollution we have witnessed in recent years. Very little research is being done in this area. It would be very difficult for Ireland to undertake such research on its own but it could be done at European level. I hope the Minister will take into account the issues I have raised when he meets his colleagues in Brussels. Perhaps he will report back over the next couple of years on the successes he has had in addressing these issues.

This is one of the most important Bills to come before the House in a long time. It is a measure that will effect the safety not only of those in maritime counties but also those using the sea for travel and commercial purposes. Insufficient attention has been given to the question of safety at sea.

Over recent years we have seen on our televisions and read in our newspapers about the various accidents which have taken place, and we immediately relate them to the potential danger they present for us as individuals and communities. The grounding of a nuclear submarine on the Isle of Skye was the biggest and most graphic illustration we are likely to get for some time as to the kind of danger presented by the transport of various substances at sea. In this case, the power used to transport them was a nuclear submarine. I appreciate that nuclear submarines are built to deal with many eventualities but, nonetheless, it proves a point.

There are several elements regarding the transport of noxious substances at sea that affect the safety of the community. Various known and unknown substances are now readily transported and it is not possible to know the quality, type and make-up of some of the substances, or where they are transported from. For instance, will it be possible under EU and international law to correctly identify a substance to be transported from a port? Will the responsibility in the event of a disaster fall on those who issued the licence for transportation of the substance, on the carrier or on the country involved? It is an interesting point.

An equally important point is the quality of the vessel transporting the substance. There is no sense transporting dangerous substances in substandard vessels or those that have already served their purpose. There is no sense in transporting a substance that is not suitable for transportation because it automatically presents a serious hazard to the community. The route substances travel is important, as Deputy Naughten mentioned, and it is best to choose a less frequently used route and one where less damage will be caused in the event of an accident.

The availability of suitable and qualified crew is also important. It is extremely dangerous to have crew with little experience or training, and such crew will often not be long-term employees of the firm undertaking the transportation. I mention this because there have been instances where serious sea pollution has arisen from tankers being ill-equipped and poorly crewed.

These issues have the ability to affect the well-being of the community. A deficiency in one or all of these areas could end with a serious incident. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, is familiar with this subject. In recent years, I have put down numerous parliamentary questions in an effort to focus attention on the issue of safety at sea. This affects more than simply those who use the sea – it affects countries, shorelines, marine life, the community and the environment. A deficiency in any of the areas I and others have mentioned will result in the possibility of a major accident such as has not happened before. It is important to recognise that and put in place mechanisms to deal with the risks.

I am not certain that the certification of vessels, as is currently required in theory, is sufficiently rigid to ensure high quality vessels for the transportation of noxious substances or hazardous waste. I am speaking from second hand knowledge but, from that, I have serious reservations about this area. Vessels that do not meet the requirements present serious problems and bring us back to the question of who has responsibility for such vessels. I do not want to go too far in discussing responsibility for accidents as prevention is better than cure. We should try to eliminate problems and put the responsibility on those who have instigated the transportation such as owners, agents and others.

British Nuclear Fuels has been mentioned with regard to a cargo that travelled almost twice around the world. It was possible in that case to have illegal or insufficient documentation, which was one breach in the regulations. It is quite possible that other breaches could occur and, if that happened and there was a serious accident, there would be a huge furore when it became known that proper documentation did not exist. We should realise the implications if that happened. In a world of "have gun, will travel" terrorism, such possibilities should not be far from our minds at any time.

Certification must be rigid, and enforced vigorously and without exception. There should be no doubt as to where responsibility lies in the event of a disaster. The certification of vessels must be linked directly to the substance transported and there must be liability in the case of misuse of that certification. I emphasise the vulnerability of vessels, particularly when it comes to terrorism. If it becomes known that this type of vessel is on the high seas, it may become a target. There are people who believe they must save the world by killing everyone in it and that must be recognised.

Although not directly related to this Bill, there are safety at sea regulations that apply to all passenger and cargo vessels. An amazing incident occurred some years ago regarding a passenger ferry transporting people from Ireland. The vessel and its crew passed the necessary tests in Ireland but it was subsequently held in a foreign port as it failed the tests there. I had occasion to question people associated with that incident and I know that there was a valid explanation for it. However, we should consider the implications for Ireland if there was a disaster and it was found that the certification guidelines and procedures had not been adhered to or could not be adhered to. There would be a serious problem and it would be extremely embarrassing. There could also be serious loss of life. There can be a threat of loss of life apart from the environmental threat because collisions at sea, which occur regularly, can involve serious safety issues.

The agents involved in transportation should fully recognise their responsibilities. There tends to be a certain amount of brokerage in the business in question. That is understandable and is correct in the normal way. However, there also appears to be a haphazard attitude to transport by sea on the basis that it is on the high seas, far from shore, possibly up to 200 miles, and that everything will be fine in any event. That does not always follow and in the event of Murphy's Law applying, where if it can happen, it will, the legislation before us or any in this area being updated in Europe needs to be built on the premise that Murphy's Law will apply. If it does not, it is inadequate.

I found out when questioning the issue of safety at sea that the international law recognised by the European Union is inadequate to deal with the current situation and needs to be updated considerably if it is to protect the lives, way of life and environment of the public. The Bill presents us with an opportunity to review the question of transport by sea and its implications for those involved in and generating transport and for the community at large.

I emphasise the European element. I know the directive on safety at sea is being reviewed and updated although I am unsure at what stage it is. It should be transposed into our law in the context of the legislation before us because it is fundamental to the issue of safety at sea.

These issues are probably less prominent for those of us who live inland than for those who live in maritime counties, such as the Acting Chairman. That said, we must all recognise that we live in an island country, which means all transport by sea affects us in some way. Lack of it affects us, adequate transport affects us beneficially and the manner and method of transportation and the type of materials transported have implications for the people in this country because it is not the largest one in the world by a long shot.

I welcome the legislation because it is necessary. It must be vigorously enforced and sufficiently comprehensive to ensure that something does not happen in six months' time which can be pointed to as a glaring example of something waiting to happen and which we should have done something about beforehand. We need to ensure the legislation has adequate scope and scale to deal with what has occurred and to anticipate accidents that may happen.

It is essential to point out that accidents do happen and will happen. While we may not be able to eliminate them, we should try to isolate them as much as possible and try to control the consequences or make them manageable as much as possible. The Ministers present have a direct interest in this because of their geographical location. It will serve them and the legislation well for them to be immersed in its implementation.

This is important legislation. Whether, like me, one comes from a maritime county or, like previous speakers, from an inland county, it is important for all parts of the country that there is adequate legislation to deal with possible threats of pollution on our seas and to deal with the law of the sea. I do not know if the Bill goes far enough in this regard but perhaps it can be strengthened at other Stages. Nonetheless, it is welcome.

Our spokesperson on the marine, Deputy O'Dowd, dealt with the possible threat from British ships carrying nuclear waste, and Deputy Durkan referred to ships being allowed to travel throughout the world with inadequate certification. These are serious matters. I hope the legislation can deal with those aspects which could and would be a threat to Irish coastal waters and Ireland generally. It does not matter if pollution occurs in territorial or international waters, it will have the same effect because we are an island nation.

Deputy Naughten dealt with another aspect which I expect the Minister to refer to, namely, the discharge of ballast waters from ships and the pollution this can cause. Almost unknown dangers are involved. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that.

The most common threat of pollution comes from the discharge of oil from tankers at sea, whether by accident or otherwise. This is a serious threat and I hope measures will be taken to ensure that this pollution threat is dealt with rigorously. I do not know what penalties there are for this or how they are imposed.

Deputy Cowley referred to Galway as being more famous for its oil pollution than for its Claddagh. That is not correct. There was a major oil spill in Galway some time ago which affected the swans in the Claddagh basin. I compliment the efforts of the swan rescue group in Galway for the great work it did at the time.

There is always a threat from oil pollution. There was a serious oil spill from a tanker in the docks in the past month, and the Minister will be aware of this. Fortunately, because of favourable winds and weather conditions, the oil drifted out to sea and evaporated with no apparent damage to the bay, beaches or swans in the Claddagh basin. That was because of the fortunate circumstances at the time. Does the legislation deal with an oil spill where a tanker in dock accidentally discharges its load?

Does this legislation cater for such an eventuality?

How does this legislation cater for sewage pollution to the seas or pollution from the land? An EU directive will ensure that by 2005 every seaside town with a population of more than 10,000 will be obliged to have a sewage treatment plant. I am not sure this is an achievable target in the current economic climate. In County Galway where I have made inquiries the number of sewerage schemes required does not seem achievable. Galway city with a population of more than 70,000, which could be well more than 100,000 if students and tourists are included, is still discharging our untreated sewage into the sea. We are building a modern treatment plant on Mutton Island but that was held up for many years because of objections. The problem will be corrected in the next year or so when the Mutton Island plant is complete. We have been discharging directly into the sea until now although the city has had plans for a treatment works for more than the 25 years since I first became involved in local authority matters.

Galway is only now achieving this and the issue highlights the threat of the pollution of our seas and beaches. In many other towns and villages in Galway our sewage is discharged untreated into the sea. We have lost the blue flag in Salthill, a major tourist area. I blame that on the criminal abuse of our bays and waterways as a result of pollution caused by ourselves. The damage that is or might be caused to our fishing industry as a result of pollution is an issue that must be addressed. What effect do the discharges we make into our seas have on fish life and on the fishing industry?

What adverse effects do other discharges have? Will the Minister address in the Bill the potential damage, as eloquently outlined by Deputy Naughten, caused by the discharge of ballast waters in our seas? Is there anything in the Bill to control the threat in that regard? Microcosms and other matters could be transported from other parts of the world to our waters through the discharge of ballast water. Are there any regulations in the Bill concerning that or can they be included in it?

As most speakers have said the Sea is one of our greatest assets and being a maritime country this legislation is overdue. I hope it is strong enough and adequate to deal with the many threats and occurrences of pollution of our sea waters. Can this Bill be improved to deal with that and with the many issues raised by Deputies as a result of the research they have put into the threats and reality of pollution in our waters? The Minister and all of us want to achieve the protection of our waters through this Bill. I hope that will be done.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions to the debate and their welcome and support for the Bill. I am pleased that they see the Bill as providing for a positive measure which will enable Ireland to participate in the best available liability and compensation regime in respect of pollution damage caused by hazardous and noxious substances.

Several Deputies referred to the background and content of the Bill. Deputy Coveney gave an accurate summation of the position and mentioned the Title of the Bill and the change that has taken place since the Bill was published in April, 2000. I assure the Deputies that I will arrange for amendment of this and for an amendment to reflect the introduction of the euro on Committee Stage.

Other matters raised by almost all Deputies were the enforcement of costs and the MOX plant at Sellafield. This is a civil liability Bill and there will be no direct costs to the Exchequer. The costs relating to an incident will be met in the first instance by the ship owner's insurance, up to a certain threshold above which, or in cases where the pollution source cannot be identified or liability cannot be proved, costs will be paid from the HNS fund which is financed by those who receive the materials concerned. The provisions enabling the Minister to appoint inspectors to enforce the legislation are similar to those which already exist in regard to sea pollution.

Deputy Kehoe and others raised the issue of the MOX plant. I reiterate that the question of proposing a ban on the passage of ships carrying nuclear material remains difficult given the right of passage enshrined in the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. International conventions play a vital role in regard to safety at sea and the protection of the marine environment. Given our exposed coastline it is important we comply with these. The Government is doing everything possible, within the framework of international law, to continue expressing concerns in regard to the MOX plant and to fight our case with the UK Government.

Deputy Kehoe also asked about experience to date in regard to breaches of the convention. Nothing is available as it has not entered into force internationally to date. He also mentioned arrangements for checking vessels. Every vessel carrying dangerous goods is obliged to report the details of its cargo to the harbour master before departure from the port under the European Union's Minimum Requirements for Vessels Carrying Goods Regulations, 1995.

Deputy Gilmore mentioned that it has taken six years to bring this legislation to the Dáil – I have only been here three months. He also referred to the delay since the Bill was published in April, 2000. I regret the delay but I appreciate that it arose because of demands on the Oireachtas schedule. We are ahead of our EU counterparts in other states who have been asked to report on developments by June, 2004. I assure Deputies that Ireland is well ahead of most member states in preparing draft regulations. Deputy Gilmore also suggested that a map would be helpful in identifying the exact jurisdiction to which this legislation is to apply. I have arranged to have this map sent to the Deputy and to other Deputies who were in attendance at the debate on that occasion. Like other Deputies, Deputy Gilmore was also concerned about radioactive materials that are not covered by this legislation. As I previously stated, vessels carrying radioactive materials are covered under a separate convention.

Deputy Ryan also referred to the 1999 study on emergency towing vessels. I can assure the Deputy that I am fully committed to ensuring we have the most effective arrangements in place in this regard, through co-operation with UK authorities where appropriate.

Although it was somewhat off the subject, my colleague from Wexford, Deputy Twomey, talked about fishing, the Irish Box and the Fischler proposals. I can assure the Deputy that we are very much on top of this problem. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has had meetings with Commissioner Fischler and ministers from other like-minded EU countries and we are dealing effectively and urgently with that problem to ensure the livelihoods of the fishermen around our coastline are protected.

Deputy Morgan raised a number of issues about compensation and other areas. The compensation levels are considered adequate, but there is a provision in the convention for increased compensation if so desired. He asked about emergency response legislation. That has been in place since 1999.

Deputy O'Donovan spoke about the sad history of Bantry Bay. Conventions and legislation are in place to deal with the situations he mentioned. He proposed that an emergency towing vessel should be located in Bantry Bay. I note his suggestions, but a number of other Deputies suggested different parts of the country. We will have to deal with that as it arises.

Deputy Deenihan spoke about dumping at sea. Legislation is already in place under the 1996 Act. He also raised the threat of pollution and specifically the prevention of pollution from ships. The Sea Pollution Act, 1991, gives effect to the MARPOL Convention and deals with this issue. He asked about hazardous substances, which are being dealt with under various international codes. We will get copies of the codes for the Deputy.

Deputy Cowley talked about the importance of the west of Ireland for fishing and mentioned safety as well as the importance of rivers. I agree with many of the points he made.

Deputy O'Dowd suggested the Bill be amended to deal with the transport of nuclear material. As I said earlier, this is not included in the convention, but is covered in separate international conventions. He also talked about increased discharges into the Irish Sea. I agree those are not acceptable. He mentioned the security of ferry ships, like the ones that travel from Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead, or Rosslare to Fishguard or Cherbourg. This is particularly relevant in the light of statements made by Prime Minister Blair in the past week concerning security. This is being actively pursued at EU and international level, as it cannot simply be addressed at an Irish level.

Deputy Naughten talked about bio-pollution, ballast water and the threat to the environment. This is being pursued through the International Maritime Organisation. He also spoke about pollution in inland waterways. We would be anxious to ensure they are protected. He also talked about security for the shipment of nuclear material.

Deputy Durkan raised a number of issues that had been raised by different Deputies throughout the debate. In relation to shipping traffic, lanes are already set out and determined by the IMO. The Department agrees with his views on the importance of having fully qualified crews. He also spoke about safety of vessels, enforcement, vulnerability in relation to security, and the laws relating to safety at sea.

As Deputy Kehoe would know, from 1 January there will be stringent regulations in the area of angling. We have had a Department roadshow involving a number of public meetings throughout the country, where Department officials spoke to the fishermen and the general public. Particularly after the tragedy in Fethard, where a number of people lost their lives, it was incumbent on us in the Department, fully supported by Opposition spokespersons, to act quickly to address this problem to ensure people going out to sea would at all times meet the safety requirements as laid down by the Department. We are introducing stringent but necessary regulations to deal with safety at sea.

Deputy McCormack raised issues relating to oil pollution, which is already covered in separate legislation. He also mentioned pollution from land sources, which is covered by separate legislation under Department of the Environment and Local Government regulations. Although ballast water is not covered by this Bill, I note the comments made by the Deputy and by Deputy Naughten.

I thank the Deputies for raising the issues and we will discuss them more fully on Committee Stage to see what amendments can be made based on ideas that have come from both sides of the House during the debate.

Question put and agreed to.