Written Answers. - Ferry Safety Standards.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

38 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources when the ferry City of Cork was last inspected by the Irish authorities; the basis on which it was detained in the UK on two occasions in recent months as a result of a failure on the part of some of its crew to comply with safety standards; the steps which have been taken by the Irish authorities in connection with these failures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17396/01]

The last inspection, carried out by this Administration, was held on 7 April last. We had carried out two previous inspections on 12 March and 21 March.

I understand the detentions by the UK authorities were related to the inability of some crew members to perform, to the satisfaction of the inspectors, during emergency exercises or drills on board. It appears that some crew members were not able to display sufficient proficiency when presented with a fire emergency scenario. In addition, it appears the vessel's ISM, international safety management system, which should ensure that such deficiencies are identified in advance, was not of an acceptable standard. Accordingly, the UK authorities detained the vessel until these matters were rectified. Officials from my Department were in contact with their UK colleagues and were kept aware of developments.

Swansea Cork Ferries has claimed that the responsibility for the safe operation of the vessel rests with the owners from whom it has chartered the vessel. It claims the owners must operate the ISM system, train the crews to acceptable standards and provide a safe ship complying with all the statutory requirements. However, in my opinion, Swansea Cork Ferries has a duty of care to those passengers to whom it sells travel tickets. Accordingly, it must play a role in ensuring the owners of the vessel establish any procedures necessary so that those passengers can be carried in safety.

Officials from my Department have met the senior management of Swansea Cork Ferries and discussed these issues in great detail. The owners of the vessel have now retained an expert in ISM matters to ensure the necessary management systems are in place within the owner's company itself and on board the vessel. Swansea Cork Ferries is now employing its own expert to ensure the owners and the vessel continue to comply with the necessary requirements in order that it can be satisfied that its passengers are being carried in safety.
In addition, officials from my Department carried out inspections and drills on board the vessel in Cork yesterday, 13 June, and was satisfied with the crew's ability to handle different emergency situations. However, we will continue to monitor closely the vessel to ensure that these standards are maintained into the future and will not hesitate to detain the vessel in the event that safety standards fall below the required levels.