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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Jun 2004

Vol. 587 No. 1

Sea Pollution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to bring this Bill to the House and I look forward to hearing Deputies' contributions.

This is a wide-ranging Bill relating to aspects of the marine environment. It updates our legislation that protects the marine environment through giving effect in our law to several internationally agreed instruments. These include the Protocol to the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC); the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (Bunkers Convention); the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems for Ships, 2001 (AFS Convention); Annex VI to the MARPOL Convention (the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships done at London on 2 November 1973, as amended by the protocol done at London on 17 February, 1978 (MARPOL 73/78)). The Bill also amends the Merchant Shipping Act 1992.

The Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act 1999 gives effect to OPRC. The convention was designed to ensure that proper arrangements are in place in each member state of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to deal with emergency situations arising from spillage of oil into the sea.

Resolution 10 of the 1990 conference that adopted OPRC invited the IMO to initiate work to develop an appropriate instrument to expand the scope of the OPRC convention to apply, in whole or in part, to pollution incidents by hazardous substances other than oil and prepare a proposal to this end. The IMO in March 2000 adopted a protocol to that effect.

The 1999 Act provides for the preparation of oil pollution emergency plans by harbour authorities and operators of offshore installations and oil handling facilities, and 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 Irish Coast Guard, formerly known as the Irish Marine Emergency Service, which was set up in 1991 as part of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, has been designated as the Irish national response agency and has made the necessary arrangements to give effect to the convention. The Irish Coast Guard is also to be similarly designated for the purposes of the protocol. The Bill now before us amends the 1999 Act to give effect to the terms of the protocol.

Ships travel faster through the water and consume less fuel when their hulls are clean, smooth and free from fouling organisms, such as barnacles, algae and molluscs and, therefore, they are coated with anti-fouling systems. During the 1960s the chemical industry developed efficacious and cost-effective anti-fouling paints using metallic compounds, in particular the organotin compound tributyltin (TBT). By the 1970s most seagoing vessels had TBT paints on their hulls.

Awareness of the harmful environmental effects of organotin compounds gradually grew in the late 1980s. Scientific studies have shown that organotin compounds, in particular TBT, used as anti-fouling systems on ships, pose a substantial risk of adverse impacts on ecologically and economically important marine organisms.

The IMO held a diplomatic conference on the control of harmful anti-fouling systems for ships from 1 to 5 October 2001, which adopted the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems for Ships, 2001 (AFS Convention). This convention provides rules to ban the use of organotin-based anti-fouling systems, TBT, which are harmful to the marine environment and provides a mechanism through which other harmful anti-fouling systems may be banned or regulated in the future on a global basis.

The use of organotin anti-fouling compounds has been restricted in the State under by-law 657 of 1987. This by-law, however, did not apply to any boat used or intended for use solely on the sea, and whose hull is made of aluminium alloy, or the overall length of which is more than 25 meters, while the convention applies to all vessels.

The convention will enter into force 12 months after its ratification by at least 25 States representing at least 25% of the world's tonnage; that target has yet to be reached. The convention, however, includes fixed application dates — 1 January 2003 for the prohibition of the application of TBT coatings on ships and 1 January 2008 for the elimination of active TBT coatings on ships.

EU member states were prominent in promoting this measure and were anxious that the terms of the convention be applied as far as possible at the earliest possible date. The application of TBT has accordingly been prohibited on EU ships and on ships entering EU ports as from 1 July 2003 in advance of entry into force of the convention. EU member states have been urged to introduce the legislation necessary to ratify the convention as soon as possible. Ireland has consistently advocated a ban on anti-fouling systems to apply internationally as set out in the convention and should accordingly introduce the necessary legislation to enable the State to ratify it as soon as possible. This Bill fulfils this requirement.

The Sea Pollution Act 1991 makes provision for the prevention of pollution of the sea by oil and other substances and gives effect to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, done at London on 2 November 1973, as amended by the protocol done at London on 17 February 1978 (MARPOL 73/78), also known as the MARPOL convention.

Regulations covering the various sources of ship generated pollution were originally contained in the five annexes of the convention. MARPOL is continually under review at the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO and amendments are adopted as considered necessary. The convention has been modified by the protocol of 1997, whereby a sixth annexe was added relating to the prevention of air pollution from ships. This Bill amends the 1991 Act to enable regulations relating to annexe VI on the prevention of air pollution from ships to be made.

The bunkers convention builds on arrangements which are in place at international level regarding civil liability and compensation arising out of oil spills from tankers and which have been adopted in connection with the carriage of hazardous and noxious substances by sea. Deputies will recall the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Act 2003, which was enacted in October 2003 and which updates our legislation on spills from tankers. The bunkers convention introduces a civil liability regime for ships other than oil tankers.

The Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill 2000, which is currently before the Dáil, gives effect in Irish law to the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in connection with the carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea 1996.

The bunkers convention complements the conventions relating to liability and compensation in respect of oil spills from tankers and hazardous and noxious substances. This Bill similarly complements the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Acts and the HNS Bill through introducing arrangements in respect of spills of bunker oil. Section 8(5) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992 empowers the Minister to refuse to grant a certificate to the owner of a passenger ship and section 15(6)(b) empowers the Minister to refuse to grant a licence to the owner of a passenger boat, where the owner of a passenger ship or passenger boat has been convicted of an offence. Section 9(2) of the 1992 Act gives the Minister powers to suspend or revoke a passenger ship certificate where an owner fails or refuses to comply with a condition of a certificate.

Section 16(2) of the Act gives the Minister powers to suspend or revoke a passenger boat licence where the owner fails or refuses to comply with a condition of a licence. Either provision only applied to the vessel to which the certificate or licence applies. The Minister has no powers regarding any other vessel the owner may have, that is, the Minister can act only regarding the passenger ship or passenger boat in respect of which the convictions were made, but he cannot do anything about any additional passenger ship or passenger boat that the owner may have. The proposed amendment will enable the Minister to revoke any or all passenger ship certificates and/or passenger boat licences held by an individual who has been guilty of an offence even when the offence has occurred on another vessel.

The provisions of the Bill in this respect have been strengthened by amendments to the text which were made by the Seanad. This followed a proposal by the Labour Party which I had examined; the amended text was found to be satisfactory by all parties. The penalty provisions in the Act in respect of passenger ships and passenger boats will also be amended to bring them into line with the current maximum permissible.

Those are the elements of the Bill. It will assist the House in its consideration of the Bill to refer to the context in which it is being introduced. Owing to the international nature of shipping, action to prevent pollution of the marine environment is most effective when taken by agreement at regional or international level. Our valuable but vulnerable coastline has convinced us of the importance of achieving the highest standards of safety on ships. Ireland has consistently supported measures in this regard at EU and international level. It is important, therefore, that our legislation complies with accepted EU and international standards while addressing specific Irish concerns. The condition of the marine environment does not remain unchanged; it is continually evolving. Similarly the state of international shipping and other factors which affect the marine environment are continually changing. International and other instruments are accordingly kept under review and updated as required.

The Erika incident off the coast of France in December 1999 led to a re-assessment at EU and international levels of many aspects of the regulatory arrangements which apply regarding maritime safety and the protection of the marine environment. This process was given added impetus in November 2002 when the Bahamas registered tanker Prestige, laden with 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, broke in two off the coast of Galicia, Spain, spilling an unknown but substantial quantity of its cargo.

Following the Erika incident measures have been introduced or agreed regarding the compensation available to victims of pollution by oil tankers — as I mentioned earlier, legislation to give effect to these measures was enacted in October 2003; the regulation of ship classification societies; the accelerated phasing out of single-hull oil tankers; the strengthening of port state control measures; ship reporting arrangements; and the establishment of the European Maritime Safety Agency by regulation in August 2002 for the purpose of ensuring a high, uniform and effective level of maritime safety and prevention of ships within the EU. The agency will enable the Commission to offer the full range of professional services needed to discharge its duties in this connection. All member states are represented on the board of EMSA. Deputies will be interested to hear that the board of EMSA met in Gorey, County Wexford, in March 2004. This was the first occasion since its establishment that a meeting of the board was held at a venue outside of Brussels. EMSA agreed to this arrangement so that it could be held back-to-back with the Maritime Safety Forum which was hosted by the Irish Presidency the following day. I was particularly pleased both in my capacity as a Minister of State and as a public representative for County Wexford to meet the board members and to open proceedings at the forum.

Following the Prestige incident EU Ministers committed themselves to building on the progress which had been made during the previous few years. To that end a number of new measures were introduced. An EU regulation to further accelerate the phasing out of single-hull tankers and to ban the carriage of heavy grades of fuel oil in single-hull tankers came into force on 21 October 2003. Following a request from EU member states the IMO agreed in December 2003 to introduce arrangements which were almost similar to be applied internationally.

A proposal by the Commission concerning sanctions for offences involving pollution of the marine environment is at present under consideration at EU official working group level. Ireland has undertaken to progress the matter as far as possible during our EU Presidency term. Belgium, France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom decided in April 2003 to present the IMO with a joint request to designate certain maritime areas as a "particularly sensitive sea area" to strengthen its protection of particularly vulnerable areas. The limit of the PSSA proposed coincides with the 15th Meridian, the Porcupine Bank, and includes parts of the special waters of north-west Europe, as defined under the MARPOL convention, the English Channel and coastal waters, and certain parts of pollution response areas and exclusive economic zones along Spanish, French and Portuguese coasts. The aim of the exercise is to protect our marine environment and coastline from oil spills by discouraging vessels from entering into the PSSA. It was proposed to ban certain tankers and others ships, for example, double-hull and some single-hull tankers would have to state their intention to cross the area 48 hours in advance.

The PSSA request was considered by MEPC in July 2003. Irish experts from several Departments and agencies together with colleagues from the other five states attended to support the request. MEPC agreed in principle to the request for designation and referred the matter to an expert navigation committee for examination. This committee is expected to report to MEPC later this year. MEPC did not accede to the request to ban tankers as proposed; it is open to the states concerned to introduce other protective measures. Possible proposals in this regard are being considered by the officials and experts concerned.

While attention has properly been given at EU and international levels to the fallout from the Erika and Prestige incidents, Deputies are also aware that in Ireland we succeeded early in 2003 in averting a serious oil spill. An incident occurred on 28 January 2003 off the coast of Donegal involving a 22 year old single-hull Panamanian registered tanker, the Princess Eva, which had the potential for pollution similar to that of the Prestige or Erika. The vessel was carrying 55,000 tonnes of heavy oil from Copenhagen to the USA. On the 28 January 2003 the vessel experienced very heavy weather off the north-west coast of Ireland. Following an accident on board in which two crew members were killed and another severely injured, the vessel entered Donegal Bay where the two bodies were transferred to shore. An oil spill was averted due to the actions taken by the Irish Coast Guard and the maritime safety directorate of my Department.

Events such as these serve as a reminder of the vulnerability of our coastline and of the importance of adequate protection for the marine environment. These events have also focused the Minister's attention on the provision of safety services. He is satisfied that the establishment of a single agency responsible for all safety matters is the best course of action. He intends to submit proposals to Government for decision in this regard as soon as possible. This matter is at present being discussed with trade unions and staff representatives with a view to resolving industrial relations issues which arise and charting the way forward for the development of marine safety services. The Minister and I look forward to debating the legislation required with Members of the Oireachtas in due course.

It is evident from the foregoing that EU member states, including Ireland, have been to the fore in recent years in advocating improvements at all levels and particularly at international level in safety standards for ships and the protection of the marine environment. Ireland is committed to fostering a continuation of this approach during our EU Presidency term. This Bill is part of the process of providing adequate protection for our marine environment. I look forward to hearing Deputies' contributions and have no hesitation in commending this Bill to the House.

This is an important Bill. It is a measure to implement international conventions and protocols. Over the years since my election to this House we have regularly discussed pollution at sea, particularly oil pollution. The Bill is a good and cohesive measure to deal with this problem. It is important that we deal with it.

The Bill refers mainly to five agreements: the Protocol to the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation; the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage — bunkers convention, the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems for Ships, Annex VI to the MARPOL Convention and the protocol to amend that convention. When one hears about pollution at sea one's first response is to wonder what damage has been done. The Minister mentioned the incident that occurred in Donegal. Avoiding sea pollution is important and the Bill will assist in that regard.

One dreads to hear the word "pollution" in the context of our coastline and marine life. Protection of the marine environment and the urgent restoration and maintenance of fish stocks are important not just for Ireland but throughout the world. We are trying to protect our oceans and particularly our fish stocks. The fisheries sector is extremely important for this country and especially for the people in coastal counties. It has contributed a great deal to the economy over many years. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, launched a project last Monday morning aimed at preserving fish stocks. The programme will be brought into primary and secondary schools to educate young people on the importance of our fish stocks.

Recent incidents have focused attention on the vulnerability of our coastline. An island country must always be conscious of and support measures which will assist in eliminating any form of pollution at sea. Our coastline is important for our tourism industry. In the months from April to September, huge numbers of tourists visit our coastline and we are proud of that. As a result, minds will be focused on recent incidents at sea. One of those was the problem that occurred off the Galician coast, when 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil were spilt into the sea. Each night we saw on television the effect this had on the coastline of Galicia and the impact it had on the local tourism industry. I dread such a major incident occurring on our coastline. It brought home to television viewers the result of such an incident.

I welcome the proposal to put marine safety under the remit of a single body. I commend the people of Donegal. The Minister referred to them and how a major incident with the Princess Eva was averted off the coast of Donegal. Fortunately, as a result of their efforts, the 55,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil did not end up on the coastline. I also commend the Ministers of State and his Department on helping in that. If there had been a disaster, what would the situation now be on the Donegal coastline? Deputy McGinley spoke about the importance of fisheries for County Donegal. If there had been an oil spill, it would have been a major disaster for the area. Many people in Donegal are employed in the fishing sector. The Prestige incident demonstrates what can go wrong. Fortunately, the same did not happen with the Princess Eva.

When the House discussed the civil liability and compensation legislation, I suggested that we should have a specialised towing tug which could immediately be put into action if there were a major danger of oil pollution on our coastline. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of such a specialised ship which could deal with pollution in our seas and other incidents. It would be an effective marine safety mechanism.

The Minister referred to the power of the Minister to refuse a licence to the owner of a passenger ship. This is welcome. An owner of a passenger ship who breaks the law should not get the same treatment as somebody who abides by the law. Everybody is aware of the importance of passenger ships. County Wexford has experienced some sad incidents with these ships so the Minister having this power is most welcome. Owners should be heavily penalised for any offence they commit. Similarly, the same will apply to the owners of passenger boats, which is also welcome.

The Minister spoke about the phasing out of single hull tankers and banning the carriage of heavy grades of fuel in single hull tankers. How long will this take? Will it be months or years? The Bill refers to the use of anti-fouling paints and the use of metallic compounds in those paints, particularly the organotin compound TBT. These paints have been used since the 1960s on the hulls of ships to stop fouling organisms such as barnacles and algae from clinging onto the hulls and slowing down the ships. This is also welcome and is indicative of the level of detail in the Bill. All these measures contribute to the preservation of our fish stocks.

Any Bill that deals with pollution at sea must be welcomed. Ireland has a long coastline and we all obtain enjoyment from it. Any avoidable destruction of the marine environment would be tragic. We must have all possible ammunition ready to deal with this possibility. This Bill is ammunition to stop the destruction of our coastline by use of harmful substances. I commend the Bill to the House and welcome the prevention of any pollution of our coastline.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Seán Ryan.

I warmly welcome the Sea Pollution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003. It compliments the work done by the Minister recently in the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment Bill 2003, the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2000, which we dealt with recently, and the Maritime Security Bill 2004, which is due to return to the House shortly for Report Stage. I welcome the Minister of State's speech but I regret that he did not address the issue of particularly sensitive sea areas, PSSAs, in a more forthright way. He updated us on the current state of play in this regard and the progress made by him and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. He did not indicate whether we will take a significant initiative to protect our coastline and seas during the lifetime of this Government. I urge him to redouble his efforts in this regard.

I commend our officials in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, especially those in the maritime safety directorate, the marine environmental division and the maritime safety division, who have introduced a string of Bills over the past year and a half dealing with Ireland's adherence to international conventions in order to curb pollution of the maritime environment. The key international legal instruments which the Bill transposes into Irish law are the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution, which brings the provisions for bunker oil in line with those for oil-carrying vessels; the Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents 2000; the 1990 OPRC Convention and Annex 6 of the 1997 MARPOL Convention, which deals with the prevention of pollution from ships; and the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems 2001, the AFS Convention. As the Minister said, it is also welcome that Council Regulation 14/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition of and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters will be applied through an amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992.

The Bill is complex legislation and I commend our officials on its introduction. It is the fourth or fifth Bill we have seen which strengthens our hand in these areas. I also commend the Minister's helpfulness to Opposition Deputies when they make suggestions.

The issue of oil production has been highlighted in recent days because of the incredible surge in the price of oil. As we all know, about 0.25% of world oil production — at least 6 million tonnes of oil — ends up in the ocean. Marine pollution also occurs when oil tankers flush their tanks with sea water and passenger ships and freighters drain water ballast from their fuel tanks. We have had a long history of treating our seas as a dump for waste products. I warmly welcome the Minister's comments about the European Maritime Safety Agency, which recently met in Gorey. This co-ordination is a commendable step forward.

We know of the responsibilities of local authorities in the matter of discharging sewage and other waste products into the sea. During my time on Dublin City Council, a key step was taken to bring this to an end through the Dublin Bay project, which was implemented by the city manager and the Fingal county manager. This project is now finally operating after one or two hiccups in which there were discharges of sewage in my constituency. I hope this will never happen again. The project is now operating well and we are beginning to see its impact, although I was disappointed yesterday to hear that a number of our beaches were still deemed to be significantly polluted due to sewage discharges.

I regret the Minister has not yet designated the most vulnerable maritime areas as particularly sensitive. Why are we still waiting for this? I understand from the comments of the Minister of State that Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, the UK and Ireland approached the International Maritime Organisation with a joint request to designate certain maritime areas as particularly sensitive. The Minister of State also mentioned a proposal to forbid single-hulled tankers from passing through that territory. However, the IMO seems to have put this request on the long finger. It was considered last July and approved in principle before being referred to a so-called expert navigation committee for examination. We will not receive a report from this committee until next year.

This proposal specifically bans certain oil tankers from particularly sensitive sea areas and double-hulled and some single-hulled tankers would have to state their intentions to cross into these areas at least 48 hours into advance. This represents an important development in combating any possibility of pollution. Strikingly, however, the IMO did not agree even to this basic restriction on oil tankers. This makes one wonder where the ultimate power lies in the matter of the carriage of oil and the oil industry. However, the Minister of State should note that it is open to maritime states to introduce other protective measures.

As the Minister said, we had a relatively lucky escape in January 2002 when the Panamanian-registered Princess Eva, which was carrying 55,000 tonnes of heavy oil, got into difficulties off the Donegal coast and two crew members were killed. We commended Donegal County Council and the coastal authorities on their handling of this matter, which was exemplary. These incidents are always waiting to happen off our coast. It is important for the Minister, before the end of our six-month period — which may be our last — as holders of the European Presidency, to try to make progress in this area and set up a regime of particularly sensitive sea areas. There is always the possibility that a major disaster could devastate our tourism industry and our fragile marine environment for up to a decade.

When the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, outlined his priorities for the EU Presidency in January he included the designation of PSSAs as a key priority, along with the advancement of the proposed EU directive introducing criminal sanctions for pollution offences. What the Minister has achieved represents very slow progress. Perhaps states who feel the same way should take the unilateral action required.

It is disappointing that the House is waiting seven years for the coastal zone management Bill. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Defence and others on the Order of Business a number of times in recent weeks. I thought we would have a wide-ranging protective measure and regime for our coastal zone areas. However, we appear to be abandoning this broad vision of protecting our seas by introducing a very limited foreshore Bill. I may be wrong so perhaps the Minister of State will brief us on it. It is deplorable that the Government has not supported initiatives around the coast such as the Bantry Bay charter, work on Lough Swilly and so on, where projects got up and running, valuable research work and co-ordination of activities was carried out and the projects were then allowed to effectively fail.

I welcome in particular the coastal communities network, CoCoNet, the project which aims to develop a network of coastal stakeholders with an interest in the sustainable management of local coastal resources. The first workshop under the CoCoNet project was held recently in Howth in my constituency. I understand the next workshop will be held in the Minister of State's constituency in Wexford. Perhaps we can all meet down there after the elections and give some political support to these activists and researchers who are based in the Coastal and Marine Resources Centre of UCC at Haulbowline naval base. They have been using very innovative ways of tracking the marine environment and levels of pollution. There is a need for this House to support that initiative.

I welcome the provisions in the Bill relating to the bunkers convention which extends arrangements in regard to civil liability and compensation arising out of oil spills and the carriage of hazardous and noxious substances by sea to ships other than oil tankers. The pollution of international waters by oil and other hazardous and noxious substances has been addressed by the MARPOL convention and stricter guidelines appear to be having some impact on cutting these discharges of oil into the marine environment. There are still strikingly high volumes of oil input being reported from some areas such as the Caribbean basin, the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Some predictions in the mid-1990s saw global oil input into the world's oceans reaching perhaps 20 million tonnes a year, and pollution caused by tankers accounting for approximately half of this. It is important to ratify the bunkers convention so as not to increase the vulnerability of the marine environment. It is equally important to note that land-based oil contamination discharges and atmospheric deposition of products of incomplete combustion can supply up to 50% and 13%, respectively, of oil pollution input into the world's oceans. In this context, I welcome the clear definition of bunker oil in Part 2 of the Bill.

The Labour Party has some difficulty with line 4 on page 9 which relates to any such provision which allows the Minister to amend the Act by regulation. Perhaps we can return to this issue on Committee Stage. The fact that Dáil or Seanad approval will not be required, only negative disapproval, is something I would like to examine. On Committee Stage I will table an amendment between sections 7 and 8 to establish the basis for particularly sensitive sea areas.

I welcome section 9 relating to compulsory insurance and section 10 relating to the recognition and enforcement of final judgment in the State. I welcome in particular the powers given to inspectors under section 14 and the procedures laid down for detention of ships and recovery of fines in sections 15 and 16. The reference in section 17(3) to an offence by directors, managers or other officers of such body corporate is welcome. All these sections highlight the role of inspectors and harbour authorities. I would remind the Minister of State that we are still awaiting the appointment of a harbour master for the port of Howth in my constituency. I am not sure what the up-to-date position is in Dunmore East. I believe there are some developments in both these areas. It is crucial that two of our major national fishing ports should have a clearly defined authority. There are concerns in regard to the privatisation of Balbriggan and Skerries ports. There is a possibility that the invigilation of visiting boats and ships will not be treated with the care necessary and required under the Bill.

Sections 25 and 26 are welcome because they are similar to the recent changes in financial regulation. They require masters and crews of ships to report any discharges or pollution, including discharges from other ships. This highlights the huge number of ships that travel under flags of convenience. I asked the Minister about this issue several times in the past year or so. I understand from his recent reply that our register has more than doubled recently. The Minister was present at the recent opening of an office by one of the companies which has placed a large number of vessels on our register. Valuable sections such as sections 25 and 26 will continue to manage flags of convenience.

Flags of convenience represent approximately 65% of world shipping according to the latest survey of beneficial ownership of the world fleet by the International Transport Workers Federation. Many of the 29 national registers who have very small economic bases are described as flags of convenience. It highlights the importance of the Minister taking initiatives in this regard. We can pass the Bill and as much legislation as we like in this regard but it will have very little impact on a large portion of the world's fleet unless the flags of convenience issue is addressed. I would like the issue to be addressed because of the poor working conditions and wages of maritime workers. There are also other considerations, including the fact that such a large portion of world trade should be run in a way which makes control of issues such as pollution of the marine environment difficult.

Perhaps the Minister will look again at the Bill to see whether it would be possible to address the flag of convenience issue. Given the track record of many ships, perhaps special restrictions could be imposed on ships passing through particularly sensitive areas in Irish waters. Major pollution incidents such as those caused by the Erika, Prestige and Princess Eva appear to come back to national shipping registers over which there is very little control.

As my Fine Gael colleague said, Part 3 of the Sea Pollution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is urgently needed. I am aware of the effects on the marine environment of the anti-fouling systems, particularly tributyltin, TBT. The initiatives taken since the 1980s in this regard have been very valuable. It is important that the control of harmful anti-fouling systems for ships, the AFS convention, which bans the use of organotin based anti-fouling systems such as TBT and provides for invigilation of future harmful anti-fouling systems throughout the world, is ratified here today.

I note that the 1987 legal restriction on TBT did not apply to all vessels. This convention has not yet reached its target of 25 states and 25% of world tonnage.

I also welcome the Protocol of 2000 to the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, OPRC, which is now extended in our legislation to include pollution by hazardous substances other than oil. Part 3 of the Bill extends the system of preparation of emergency plans by harbour authorities, handling operators and offshore installations in accordance with the 1990 OPRC Convention. It also amends the Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act 1999 to give effect to the OPRC Convention. I also welcome that Annex VI to the MARPOL Convention, which covers air pollution on ships, has been included as part of the Bill and that the pollution emergency plans are being extended to include hazardous and noxious substances. I note that section 21 refers to ships registered in a country which is not a party to the convention and this highlights the type of issue to which I referred earlier.

Sections 22, 23 and 24 highlight the powers of authorised officers and the power of the Minister to act on offshore units. Section 25 refers to the harbour master or person performing that for the time being. Two fishing ports still do not have that, as I have reminded the Minister. Section 25 and the 1999 Act show the urgent necessity to ensure that all our ports are run with a clear line of command to the highest level.

Could the Deputy give way to the Minister of State who needs to move two motions on other business? With the agreement of the House, we will resume with the debate thereafter.

Debate adjourned.