Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and his officials to discuss the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2003. I ask the Minister to make a few opening remarks. We will then proceed to discuss Committee Stage of the Bill.

I thank the committee for the speed with which it is allowing this Bill to go through the House. I appreciate there are practical difficulties in terms of amendments and the examination of the issues. However, we are subject to a time deadline. I thank the Deputies for their forbearance in that regard.


Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

I welcome the Minister and his officials and I thank them for their briefing on this important international convention. This legislation refers to the International Convention for Oil Pollution Damage 1969 and 1992, the International Convention on the Establishment of the International Fund for Compensation 1971 and 1992 and the International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution 1992 and May 2003, which is the reason for the sense of urgency. As regards civil liability and oil pollution damage, there seems to be some significant international maritime conventions for which we have not legislated. Is there an outstanding list of directives at EU level for which we need to legislate?

My information is that we do not have any in the civil liability area. We have ratified or been part of the international initiatives in this regard.

I am talking about the wider maritime area. The legislation we passed before the summer recess seemed to apply to conventions dating back a decade and a half. I want to know about the general area.

I am not aware of any in that area. If the Deputy has particular instances, he could let me know. My information is that we are up to date in relation to passage through our waters. We can look at it. None of us can come up with anything in that regard. However, they are exclusive to this area.

It is in the wider area. I would be grateful if the Department could check that for me, if possible.

Members should comment on the Bill and the amendment.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Section 3 amends section 3 of the 1998 Act which amends the 1988 Act. I tried to raise this issue with the Minister on Second Stage. I am not sure if anything can be included in this legislation, given that it is about civil liability, which will probably be the Minister's answer. Section 3(a)(ix) of the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Act 1998 defines a ship as a “seagoing vessel or seaborne craft of any type, constructed or adapted for the carriage of oil in bulk as cargo”. It also refers to it as being a “seagoing vessel or seaborne craft capable of carrying oil and other cargoes that is for the time being carrying oil in bulk as cargo”. It also states: “. . . following the unloading from it of a cargo of oil, contains residues of oil in those spaces adapted or constructed”.

All the Deputies who spoke on this Bill raised two glaring issues. The first was the issue of tugs and the other was the issue of single-hull ships. Is there an opportunity for the Minister to take an initiative to punish the flag of convenience owners of single-hull ships? We still have those disastrous tankers from the 1970s. The Minister was in office when the Prestige broke up off northern Spain. It was alleged by the media that the vessel was for sale on the Internet for £0.5 million sterling a few weeks before the accident. That seems to be a dangerous area. Is it possible to take the initiative and include a provision in this legislation to deal with single-hull vessels, given that 70% of the oil shipped to Europe goes through our waters?

The definition in the 1998 Act is taken from the 1992 convention and fulfils what was in the convention. On the wider issue of taking initiatives, we have led the charge at EU level in relation to single-hull vessels. We were probably one of the first countries to push this issue. We can do it with some comfort in the knowledge that we do not have any single-hull oil tankers in our fleet. However, it would be extremely difficult to insist on double-hull vessels for a country such as Greece, which has thousands of islands and has to transport oil between them. To be fair to the Greeks, during the time of their Presidency they were in the chair

when the retraction of the time limit for phasing out was made and they acquiesced. They had problems which they indicated to the other countries.

If we take an initiative, it will be at EU level. However, we would do it in the full knowledge of the difficulties for other member states. Ultimately, this will be done not just at EU level but at international level. As Deputies can imagine, there is severe resistance to the phasing out because of the huge cost involved. We are of the view that these vessels should be banned from our waters as quickly as possible. We are leading the charge at EU level in that regard.

Are we part of a group of European countries which is looking at this issue during the phasing out period for single-hull tankers? There was a move to establish zones along the western waterways of Europe, outside Ireland and Britain, to which these tankers would not be allowed access. I am talking about the coasts of Portugal and Spain and within the Bay of Biscay. Are we campaigning to keep these vessels, which are not travelling to Ireland, a certain distance from our shores?

The Deputy is talking about PSSA, particularly sensitive sea areas, to which I referred in my Second Stage speech. I indicated that a working group is looking at this issue. We have been to the forefront in pushing this issue at EU level because of our location. When we pushed it and other countries, such as France, Portugal, Spain and the UK joined us, everyone wanted to be part of it. All the EU countries wanted PSSA for everywhere. It has been whittled down at EU level to a number of countries, perhaps five or six, which will make a proposal to the IMO in this regard. Work is ongoing with the IMO to put in place PSSA in our waters.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I went through this Bill last night with our legal adviser. It seems to be well drafted and we do not have any amendments to it. There is a significant difference between the Bill as initiated and the Bill before us. Perhaps the Minister could tell us from where the supplementary fund will come. Why was it not mentioned when the Bill was initiated?

The reason is simple and I referred to it in my Second Stage speech. The supplementary fund was adopted in May, but the drafting of the Bill had already started at that stage. We added it in as a Committee Stage amendment in the Seanad.

The phasing out of single-hull vessels has already started in 2003. The IMO has accepted in principle the need for PSSA. Work is ongoing to sort out the details.

What is the timeframe for that?

I am told it will be some time next year.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 4 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, to delete lines 14 to 32 and substitute the following:

29A.-The European Communities (Civil and Commercial Judgments) Regulations 2002 are hereby amended by the insertion of the following regulation after regulation 3-

'3A.-(1) Paragraph (2) shall apply only to a judgment of a Member State in relation to the Supplementary Fund (within the meaning of the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act 1988).

(2) The Brussels I Regulation and these Regulations apply in respect of a judgment of a Member State other than a court or tribunal of a territory of a Member State to which the Brussels I Regulation does not apply.'.".

This amendment seeks to delete the new section 29A and to substitute the textual amendment of the European Communities (Civil and Commercial Judgments) Regulations 2002. I propose the amendment because I want to improve the drafting. I understand the Office of the Attorney General decided recently to make only textual amendments to legislation rather than non-textual amendments, as the Minister has done in this Bill. That could provide interpretation difficulties in the future. It is redrafted to directly amend the 2002 regulations, which is in line with the recent principles laid down by the Attorney General. I understand there is a drafting manual and handbook for legislation which sets out that the way the Minister inserted Part IVA, for example, is not the way to draft legislation.

I would have thought it was the prerogative of the Oireachtas, not the Office of the Attorney General, to make the legislation. We might have views about the Office of the Attorney General from time to time. The amendment provides for the text of the Statutory Instrument No. 52 of 2002 to be amended. That statutory instrument gives effect in the State to Regulation EC No. 44/2001 on the jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial courts which was adopted by the EU Council on 22 December 2000. It came into force on 1 March 2002. I and the Office of the Attorney General are satisfied that the text of section 11 is adequate to ensure compliance with Regulation EC No. 44/2001 as far as the supplementary fund protocol is concerned. It is totally unnecessary to amend Statutory Instrument No. 52 of 2002. I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Section 11 inserts a new Part IVA in the 1988 Act. Part IV deals with the recognition of the enforcement of judgments, etc. Section 25 extends these provisions to the supplementary fund without the need for the amendment. The provision in section 11 was included at the request of the EU Commission in light of Regulation EC No. 44/2001 on jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters which was adopted by the Council in December 2000 and came into force in March 2002. The regulation is binding on all EU member states, with the exception of Denmark.

Regulation EC No. 44/2001 was adopted following the conclusions of the 1999 meeting of the European Council at Tampere and the Council programme of measures for the implementation of the principles of mutual recognition of decisions in civil and commercial matters. Statutory Instrument No. 55 of 2002 gives effect to that in the State.

Why is Denmark the only exception?

It was part of its accession protocol when it joined the EU. It is not bound by nor is it subject to its application. This is in accordance with the protocol in Denmark's position which is annexed to the treaty of the EU and the treaty establishing the EC.

That would also apply to the Faroes and Greenland. This is my seventh year in Opposition.


It is not a matter for congratulations but for commiseration. I would prefer to be a Government spokesperson. We are passing through a valley of darkness. The Minister has 25 people to help him. Deputy Coveney and I have only a battered computer. The Minister has a bigger volume of legislation than any other Minister.

I see that.

We will have a lot of work to do. Is there a manual and drafting handbook for legislation and could the Opposition get a copy of it?

I do not know of any such handbook.

Could the Minister check that for me?

I could do that, but I do not think there is such a handbook. It is all done through specific advice.

If we had it, we would not need to worry about textual amendments, etc.

I am told there is one for statutory instruments, but not for legislation. I presume it is available under FOI. We can make it available. My Department probably deals with more regulations than any other Department.

I thank the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 11 agreed to.
Section 12 agreed to.
Title agreed to.

I congratulate the Minister on the Irish Box deal which was achieved against all the odds. The fisheries organisations have commended the Minister on his efforts.

We are not allowed to discuss that matter unless it is connected with the Bill because we are in select committee. I ruled on that before, based on the advice I received.

If Deputy Martin Brady wants to discuss the Irish Box, we would be happy to spend an hour in the Dáil doing so. We have grave concerns about that issue.

Perhaps that could be arranged at a different level.

The Deputy is in the same league as the Spanish.

We have had enough spin.

I did not create spin.

It is like when the Taoiseach voted for Mr. Reynolds for President.

I want to complete the Bill to ensure the legalities are sorted out. Otherwise, the Bill may fall. I thank the Minister and his officials for attending today's session.

I thank the members of the committee.

I appreciate the fact that this Bill has received the widespread support of almost all the parties in the Dáil and Seanad. I come from an area which felt the effects of oil pollution as a result of major spillages in Bantry Bay when such legislation or protocols were not in place. I remember three major spillages in the area. Many people were afraid because there is a successful aquaculture industry there. We in west Cork have suffered a lot.

People who have spent thousands, if not millions of euro developing that industry are happy that this legislation has been introduced. The people I represent are pleased that it is getting a safe passage through the Houses. I compliment the Minister and his staff on their excellent work. I know the Bill is being rushed through the Houses, but that is better than not introducing it at all. I will discuss the Irish Box at a more appropriate venue.

I share many of the views expressed by Deputy O'Donovan. I am sure the Chairman also shares them as he comes from a county with a long coastline and oil terminals. It is reassuring that we are now in line with international thinking on compensation in the event of an oil spill occurring at some stage in the future.

The Minister and the Department have introduced the legislation within the timeframe, although it is slightly rushed. Are we the last country in Europe to adopt it? It is not a matter on which I want to be overly political. We will now be within the timeframe, which is welcome. We should also welcome the increase in the fund.

I thank the Minister and his officials. I agree with colleagues that this is important legislation. It is good to get it passed within the parameters.

I thank the members of the committee and its officials for facilitating us to get the Bill passed as expeditiously as possible. I thank my officials for all the work they have done.

On Deputy O'Donovan's point, in a recent visit to Japan Bantry Bay was mentioned quite a lot by the Japanese. I met with companies which are doing business with some of the aquaculture companies in Bantry Bay. As a result of their contact with the area, they may very well go into the cheese importing business in Japan, which I strongly encouraged.

I thank Deputy for his remarks in relation to the Irish Box. We were one of the few countries required to pass primary legislation to bring this into effect and, accordingly, we were somewhat slower than others. However, there are other countries which are up against the wire in terms of implementation. We are ahead of the posse in relation to the supplementary funds because we had the opportunity to provide for that in the legislation as it went through the Oireachtas.

Bill reported without amendment.