Other Questions. - Marine Rescue Service.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

56 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress in regard to the proposed recovery from the owners of the cost of the removal of oil from the Panamanian registered tanker, the Princess Eva; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10837/03]

The vesselPrincess Eva was detained by inspectors of the Maritime Safety Directorate of my Department off Killybegs Harbour on 30 January because cracks were found the previous day on the deck plating of the ship which rendered the vessel unseaworthy.

The tanker was carrying a cargo of 53,400 tonnes of gas oil. In order to repair the vessel it was necessary to remove the cargo, and this operation has now been completed. These operations took place under the control of the Irish Coast Guard.

Temporary repairs were initially carried out on the vessel and were completed in a few days. The tanker was then moved to dry dock where permanent repairs were undertaken.

In relation to costs, my Department pursues "the polluter pays" principle. The Irish Coast Guard has assessed the cost of its services during the incident at €213,000 and discussions are under way with the ship's owners at this time for the recovery of this sum.

On behalf of the Labour Party I join the Minister in congratulating the Irish Maritime Safety Directorate, the Irish Coast Guard, Dúchas and, in particular, Donegal County Council, who have done an outstanding job in respect of thePrincess Eva. I welcome the news on the recovery of funding and I hope that happens. What staff resources are available to the Maritime Safety Directorate? I am aware the Minister had intended to increase the number of inspectors significantly. Is the Minister disappointed the ban on single hulled vessels going through our waters will not come into operation until 2010. We will have to endure these battered old worthless hulks ploughing up and down our seas for another few years and possibly causing a major environmental disaster. I convey my congratulations to all the agencies involved.

I thank the Deputy for his kind remarks. A tremendous operation was carried out. One has only to look at the response in some of the magazines, Lloyds List compared Ireland's handling of thePrincess Eva with the handling of the Prestige. The way in which all our agencies worked in consort and in partnership ensured a safe and successful pollution free incident. I raised the issue at a recent Maritime Transport Council meeting to indicate how vulnerable to these events we all are on the west coast of Europe. A detailed discussion took place on the phasing out of single hull tankers. We have to be conscious that there is a substantial number of these still in operation. The Greeks, who have the Presidency, made a strong case for the single hull tankers because from their point of view it would be impossible for them to deliver oil to the various islands which are part of its nation's state. There are many difficult issues to be dealt with. To be fair to the Greeks, they acceded to the phasing out of the single hull tankers by 2008.

Could a push be made for the Irish Sea and the Atlantic region to be excluded in an earlier date?

We are one of a group of nations pushing for the western waters of the Atlantic off our coast to be treated as an extremely sensitive area and, if possible, to exclude the transmission of oil tankers of any shape or size through our waters. This is an issue that will have to go to the IMO. Once Ireland, France, Portugal and Spain made this proposal, all the other countries who have maritime waters wished to have their areas included. This matter is being discussed currently. Last week officials of my Department were in Paris to discuss this issue.

Up to what size oil tanker does Ireland have the capacity to tow with the State vessels available to us, or are we reliant on private vessels to tow large tankers should that be necessary?

The Maritime Safety Directorate is expert in this area and would be able to contract in services. That would be the norm. We also have a capability in theCeltic Explorer and the Celtic Voyager of holding in place tankers. There is also a proposal to bring forward a towing vessel. We are in discussion with our UK counterparts about the possibility of sharing resources, if resources permit, to purchase or commission a towing vessel which is something we will have to do in the future.

That would be very welcome.

I join other Deputies in the congratulations to all involved in what was obviously a very successful operation. Had it gone slightly worse, I was concerned that our stocks in the Killybegs depot for the control of such instances seemed to be limited, particularly the length of boom that could be used to trap oil in a particular place. Has the Minister any views on that matter? It seemed to me that the length of boom available was quite short. Is he happy with the facilities we have in such stored depots or do they need to be revised?

My information is that our boom facilities are more than adequate. Also there is an agreement among other countries to share facilities. The Maritime Safety Directorate supplied some facilities to the Spaniards to help with the clearance operation in respect of thePrestige.