It gives me great pleasure to be associated with this Bill. The environment action programme includes a commitment to terminate indiscriminate disposal of ships' waste in the marine environment; this Bill endorses that commitment by addressing the problems relating to protection of the marine environment from pollution by ships.
The main purpose of the Sea Pollution Bill, 1990 is to update existing legislation on the prevention of pollution from ships and on intervention with ships following upon a maritime casualty, as enshrined in our Oil Pollution of the Sea Acts, 1956 to 1977. These Acts govern pollution by oil but we all know that as the world becomes more industrialised more dangerous substances being transported by sea are polluting the marine environment.
Our legislation must also take cognisance of current trends in the shipping industry, namely, the dramatic increase in the size of ships, in particular of oil tankers; the "lame ducks" in an ageing world fleet; the emergence of offshore registries and Third World low-cost crews; the reduction in manning levels due to modern technology and performance pressures from shipowners or managers. Ireland's geographical location on the periphery of Europe with the Atlantic Ocean lying to the west, south-west and south and at the apex of one of the busiest ocean-trading routes in the world leaves the country vulnerable to maritime casualties. We must also remember that it is our relatively unpolluted waters that attract foreign tourists to this country. We must endeavour to avoid casualties occurring in our territorial waters, the resulting pollution of our waters and blight of our shore environment with wrecks. Of course, I must mention that the Atlantic is also to the north of Ireland and my province.
In order to prevent or control pollution that may be caused by ships the State's powers need to be strengthened. The international treaty commonly known as MARPOL 73/78, considered to be the most ambitious international treaty covering marine pollution ever adopted, and the international treaties on intervention on the high seas, give the scope to do so. We are indebted to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for the adoption of the treaties in question. The IMO are a specialised agency of the United Nations, wholly dedicated to maritime affairs and with the twin goals of cleaner oceans and safer seas.
The question Senators may wish to ask is: "Why the need to become party to further international treaties?". The answers are simple. The conventions, protocols and resolutions of the IMO reflect the concerns and interests of over 130 states; the IMO are the international body who have developed the "rules of the road" as it were, for the high seas and command the respect and recognition to press for universal acceptance of these rules. Ireland needs the support of such an organisation in its endeavours to protect its marine environment from pollution from ships and the disposal of ships' wastes at sea.
The main objective of MARPOL 73/78 is to reduce to a minimum, and in certain instances prohibit, the operational discharge of marine pollutants from ships through the establishment of operational discharge criteria and procedures, and construction and equipment standards. Provision is made for a regime whereby violations of the international rules and standards are prohibited and punished with sufficient severity to discourage future violations. The convention has 67 contracting states, representing 88 per cent of the gross tonnage of the world's merchant shipping fleet.
The convention itself comprises five annexes which are, effectively, the regulations laid down for the prevention of pollution by oil; by noxious liquid substances in bulk; by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged forms or in freight containers, portable tanks or road and rail tank wagons; by sewage and garbage from ships.
Each annex deals exclusively with all aspects of its subject pollutant such as vessel construction and equipment, survey, certification, discharge control and, importantly, reception facilities to be provided at ports for the disposal of waste.
All countries which become party to MARPOL 73/78 must adopt annexes 1 and 2 relating to oil and noxious liquid substances in bulk, respectively; annexes 3, 4 and 5 relating to harmful substances in packaged forms, sewage and garbage respectively are optional. Acceptance of annexes 1 and 2 is obligatory because of the more deleterious effects of oil and noxious liquid substances. Liability and compensation for pollution damage caused by discharges of persistent oil from a ship carrying oil in bulk as cargo, or discharges from its bunkers, are covered by the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act, 1988.
The intervention treaties provide that, following a maritime casualty, contracting parties may take such measures on the high seas as may be necessary to prevent, mitigate or eliminate grave and imminent danger to their coastline or related interests from pollution, or threat of pollution, by oil and other substances which are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and maritime life, to damage amenities, or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea.
MARPOL 73/78, its annexes, 1, oil, 2, noxious liquid substances, 3 harmful substances in packaged forms, and 5, garbage from ships and the Intervention Convention and Protocol are in force internationally. Annex 4 of MARPOL — sewage from ships — which is optional will not come into force internationally until it has been ratified or acceded to by countries representing over 50 per cent of the gross tonnage of the world's merchant shipping fleet. Current ratification or accession to this instrument stands at approximately 40 per cent of world shipping tonnage, as of now. I intend to adopt all five annexes, including that one, so we will be adding to that 40 per cent, giving priority to annexes 1 and 2 the compulsory annexes, and annex 5, garbage from ships.
The following are the principal provisions of the Bill. Section 10 enables the Minister to prohibit or regulate the operational discharge of oil, oily mixtures, noxious liquid substances carried in bulk — for example hazardous chemicals — harmful substances carried in packaged forms, sewage or garbage from Irish-registered ships anywhere at sea and from other ships whilst in the territorial waters of the State. The Minister may apply similar controls to other substances prescribed by him as being harmful if introduced into the marine environment and he may require the owner or master of a ship to notify him of the intention to load or unload any of these substances in the State.
Section 12 enables the Minister to require harbours in the State to have adequate facilities for the discharge or disposal of ships' waste. Harbours may make reasonable charges and impose reasonable conditions for use of the facilities provided. Section 14 and 15 enable the Minister to require an Irish registered ship to be constructed, fitted or operated in such a way as to prevent, control or reduce discharges into the sea and to keep such records of discharges of harmful substances as he prescribes. Such records would relate to operations on board ship in respect of any substance, discharges made to secure the safety of the ship or to save life or discharges in excess of the quantity, if any, permitted.
Section 17 enables the Minister to have surveyors of ships, or inspectors appointed by him under warrant, to carry out surveys, inspections and tests to ensure compliance with MARPOL standards laid down by him for ships, their equipment and fittings. He may also cause to be issued in respect of a ship a certificate of compliance with requirements.
Section 23 permits a harbour master to refuse entry into a harbour if he believes a ship not to be in compliance with certificate requirements or to be a serious threat to the environment, the harbour or other ships. This section also enables the Minister to require the owners or masters of all ships, or any classes of ships, to give notice of entry or intended entry into Irish territorial waters.
Section 26 permits the Minister, following upon a maritime casualty, to take such measures as he considers necessary, to prevent, mitigate or eliminate grave and imminent danger to the coastline or related interests, for example, fisheries activities or tourist attractions, from pollution or a threat of pollution. The Minister is entitled to recover expenses incurred in such intervention from the owner of the ship.
Section 29 lays down the penalties for breach of the requirements of the Bill, when enacted, or any regulations made thereunder. Penalties range from a maximum of £1,000 or imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both, on summary conviction and a maximum of £10 million or imprisonment up to five years, or both, on conviction on indictment.
Parts I and IV deal with the more standard provisions of the Bill. Parts II and III of the Bill which deal with prevention of pollution and enforcement are fundamentally the framework within which regulations to give effect to the five MARPOL annexes will be effected.
There has been an enormous increase in environmental awareness and concern for the environment over the past few years, particularly amongst the younger generation. In the marine area attention is being focused on the threat to the environment and to fish stocks and mammals of pollution from ships in the form of oil discharges and persistent forms of garbage, in particular plastics, including synthetic ropes and fishing nets and refuse bags. These pollutants are offensive from an aesthetic point of view as they come ashore with the tide and spoil beaches and beauty spots on the coastline. They are also offensive from an economic point of view in that they affect local fishing and aquaculture industries as well as tourism, water-based leisure activities and public amenities generally.
Marine environmental awareness was heightened last year with the launch of the Government's environment action programme and the commitment to require harbour authorities to instal facilities for receiving ships' waste and thus enable Ireland to become a party to the MARPOL Convention. Facilities must be adequate to meet the needs of the ships using them without causing undue delay.
The issue of a poster by the Department of the Marine in conjunction with the Wildlife Service at the end of 1989 to schools as well as to shipping and fisheries interests and which illustrated the cruel, harmful and oftentimes fatal effects of plastic on fish and marine mammals further highlighted the hazards of ships' waste. I have a copy of that poster and judging by the correspondence we received it was very successful. The poster depicts a dead bird, general marine debris and shows the damage done to marine life by plastic which resembles natural food. That is an indication of the harm that can be done by throwing out debris, particularly plastic debris which is non-biodegradable. It is not surprising, therefore, that MARPOL has come to be associated with garbage from ships and that the younger generation speak quite knowledgeably on annex 5 which relates to the provention of pollution from garbage.
MARPOL strictly prohibits the disposal of plastics at sea; they must be deposited in receptacles at port. Plastics are non-biodegradable; once thrown into the sea they are extremely persistent and potentially harmful if ingested by seabirds and marine mammals. In framing regulations under the Sea Pollution Bill, 1990 to cover annex 5 the disposal of plastics at sea will be prohibited. Stringent conditions will apply to the discharge and ultimate disposal of other wastes from ships, in particular food waste. The ultimate disposal of discharged waste must be undertaken with regard to wider concerns. In disposing of oily residues every effort will be made to ensure recycling and the disposal of food waste or swill must take place within the requirements of the animal diseases regulations of the Department of Agriculture and Food.
I am glad to mention to the House that in the new and almost revolutionary ship design in the Bell Pioneer the use of that heavy waste fuel is incorporated into the design of the ship, consequently lowering the cost of fuel on a ship which is famous for not having hatches and for having the quickest turn around of any ship in any fleet in the world today designed by our own naval architects and built in Japan. In disposing of oil refuse every effort is made to ensure recycling and the disposal of food waste or swill and that must be done in accordance with the requirements of the animal diseases regulations of the Department of Agriculture and Food. In compliance with the Environment Action Programme and in anticipation of the passage of the new legislation commercial and fishery harbours have been asked to provide reception facilities to meet the demands of ship and fishing vessel operators coming into port. Consultations with Irish shipping interests are also ongoing with a view to ascertaining their requirements.
There are other very important benefits accruing from passage of the Sea Pollution Bill, 1990. At the top of the list must be the State's enhanced powers to deal with offending foreign ships coming into its territorial waters. Masters of ships which are not constructed, equipped or operated to MARPOL standards will not be anxious to risk inspection, detention and penalty for unseaworthiness or deficiencies. This could have the effect of reducing the number of damaged vessels seeking refuge in ports off our south-west and north-west coasts.
I should at this stage make it clear that the Bill before the House does not cut across my Department's policy in search and rescue. Safety of life at sea still remains paramount and it may be necessary at times to admit troubled ships into territorial waters or harbours for the purpose of saving life. Section 11 of the Bill permits discharge into the sea of harmful substances where it is necessary for the purpose of saving life at sea. However, a record must be kept of such a discharge.
Equally important will be the benefit to Irish shipowners. By virtue of holding MARPOL certificates they will no longer be embarrassed by subjection to stringent inspection and delay while in MARPOL Convention countries; any such inspection will now be limited to verifying that there is on board a valid MARPOL certificate. Ireland is the only EC maritime member state and the only State party to the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control, the Paris Convention, not to have ratified or acceded to MARPOL 73/78. Under this Memorandum of Understanding each of the 14 member states undertakes to achieve an annual total of inspections of foreign-registered ships entering its ports corresponding to 25 per cent of individual merchant ships. Inspection ensures compliance with the standards laid down in a number of international conventions including the MARPOL Convention.
Ireland will also be assured of the cooperation of other parties to the MARPOL Convention and the International Maritime Organisation in the detection of violations, the enforcement of rules, environmental monitoring and accumulation of evidence against offenders.
The Oil Pollution of the Sea (Amendment) Act, 1977 empowers the Minister to take such action as he considers necessary in relation to a ship or its cargo for the purpose of preventing, mitigating or eliminating the effects of oil pollution arising from a maritime casualty. The Minister may only exercise these powers in respect of an Irish-registered ship anywhere at sea; any other ship while in the territorial waters of the State or, following a Government order, any ship registered in a country which is party to the Intervention Convention, 1969, while outside the territorial waters of the State.
The Minister must exercise his powers of intervention with discretion. There must be grave and imminent danger of major harmful consequences through pollution by oil of the coastline or related interests. Where a stricken ship is not carrying oil as cargo there must be sufficient threat of danger from bunker or fuel oil to justify intervention. Where it can be established in the case of an Irish registered ship or any other ship while in the territorial waters of the State that intervention was unreasonable then compensation must be paid.
The Minister used his powers of intervention early in 1989 when the 85,000 tonne bulk carrier Yarrawonga having lost 300 square metres of steel side plating in mid-Atlantic was abandoned by its crew. Similarly, he intervened in February 1990 with the holed 122,000 tonne bulk carrier Tribulus which limped into Bantry Bay leaking heavy fuel oil and in April 1991 during the Capitaine Pleven II incident at Ballyvaughan. I must say that the marine team from my Department acquitted themselves with distinction in all those cases to the benefit of our environment and our fisheries and tourism industries. This week I got a letter from Captain Histon, the harbour master at Foynes, indicating his complete satisfaction with the activities of that team in the case of the Atlantis Sky off Foynes on 6 October, 1991. He said he would, and I quote:
particularly like to thank your Captain Kirwan, Director of the Marine Rescue Service and your Mr. Seamus McLoughlin, Department of the Marine for the excellent work carried out by them in this emergency. I should also point out that the use of the helicopter in the incident was of great assistance. It is gratifying to know that in this country there is now a means through your Department to deal with marine emergencies such as arose in the Shannon Estuary on this occasion. It has already been noted by the owners of the Atlantis Sky and has been remarked by same as a credit to the marine tradition of our country.
When we have something good to say about ourselves I think we should say it. The Bill strengthens the Minister's powers considerably. The threat of pollution may be from any harmful substance, intervention may be made anywhere at sea and only in the case of Irish-registered and Intervention Convention country-registered ships while outside the territorial waters of the State may be a case of unreasonable intervention be entertained.
The Bill takes account of lessons learned from past disasters, namely, the need for legislation requiring the owner of a ship to compensate the Minister for expenses of, or incidental to, any action taken by him to prevent, mitigate or eliminate danger from pollution or a threat of pollution from that ship and the need to have penalties for offences commensurate with damage done. It is intended that clean-up costs would be recoverable by the Minister. At first glance, £10 million maximum penalty for conviction on indictment may seem unrealistic or excessive but when one considers the extent of damage that may be caused by marine pollution it is justifiable. I need hardly remind the House of the $1 billion-plus bill which followed the Exxon Valdez II million gallon crude oil spill in Alaska last year, about which the whole world knows. The remainder of the Bill is concerned with the strengthening of the powers of the inspectors — section 21 — and harbour masters — section 25 — in the detection of unauthorised or alleged discharge, defective ships or equipment and standard provisions which are self-explanatory. Section 5 provides that every regulation made under the proposed legislation shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. There will be an opportunity, therefore, for all Senators to consider the precise terms of the regulations to give effect to the five annexes to the MARPOL Convention.
It has long been held that Ireland should have a compulsory vessel reporting or notification system for all ships entering Irish waters. Such a system is currently in force in respect of fishing trawlers registered in Spain and Portugal, for a transitional period, and in non-EC countries when entering Community waters under Irish control.
The system would be beneficial in protecting the marine environment and also in detecting undesirable ships or cargoes of on security grounds. Section 23 enables the Minister to set up such a system should he consider it necessary and enforceable. Alternatively, a system whereby certain classes of ship which are a potential threat to the marine environment, for example, oil tankers might be required to give advance notification of entry into Irish territorial waters could be considered.
This Bill is one that will play a vital role in protecting the State's clean marine heritage.
Molaim an Bille seo don Teach. Mar a dúirt mé cheana, tá cúrsaí comhshaoil agus truaillithe an-tábhachtach agus ag éirí níos tábhachtaí in aghaidh na bliana. Tá oidhreacht chomhshaoil againn, agus is cóir dúinn an oidhreacht sin a chosaint. Is fiúntach an oidhreacht í agus is fiú í a chosaint. Beidh na glúnta atá le teacht buíoch dínn. Is chuige sin atá mé sa Bhille seo agus molaim é don Teach.