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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Kehoe was in possession and has 14 minutes remaining.

There are one or two points I wish to reiterate. Oil importers must pay for pollution or destruction for which they are responsible. They must also be held to account for any wrongdoing in which they are involved. Is Ireland's lengthy coastline being safeguarded in the way that it should be and are the proper controls in place? Is the Government aware of the identity of the oil tankers or carriers that are sailing around our coast and does it have information about the cargoes they are carrying? It is important that we should know who is sailing our coastal waters and whether they are adhering to the safety regulations.

Proper procedures must be observed, particularly on the single carrier tugs to which Deputies Coveney and Broughan referred. Proper safety standards are not being observed on single hukk tankers. These vessels pose a danger to our coastline, particularly in light of any oil spillage that might occur. Oil importers have a major responsibility to ensure that proper safety standards are in place and that the authorities here are made aware of the nature of each vessel's cargo.

Deputy Coveney referred to having a proper research vessel in place in the event of an oil spillage. In that context, I do not believe that the Celtic Explorer reaches the standards required. As stated last evening, time is of the essence if an oil spillage occurs. The Minister's officials may not agree with me but if there is an oil spillage off our coast, marine life will be placed in great danger. Everyone is aware of the importance of the sea and our coastline, strands and beaches. I would not like to see any of these destroyed.

As stated last night, it is essential that a proper tow tug is put in place. If a ship got into trouble off our coast and became stranded, it might be possible for it to be towed away by tug without oil being spilled. I am aware that such a vessel would cost a great deal but it is extremely important that a proper tow tug is purchased.

I fully support this important Bill. It is great that people directly affected by oil pollution will be given proper compensation. As we have seen in countries such as Spain and France and even off the Donegal coast, it costs a great deal to clean up after a large oil spill. I welcome the fact that proper compensation will be provided. It is a pity the legislation is being rushed through.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ardagh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2003 provides for the limits of compensation payable to victims of pollution resulting from spills of persistent oil from tankers to be increased by almost 50%. This is a short but urgent Bill which is required to be enacted by 1 November, the date on which the increased limits come into effect internationally. It is in the interests of contributors and potential victims that this deadline is met. In the event of an incident off our coast, the increased limits would only apply if our legislation were in line with that which applies internationally. The Bill is important and everyone will agree with its provisions. The international deadline is set for 1 November so everybody should welcome the legislation and ensure that we are not left behind the international community.

West County Cork sustained the worst effects of two major incidents in recent memory, namely, the Whiddy Island explosion at Bantry in 1979 when 51 people died and the sinking of the Kowloon Bridge cargo ship off the Stags Rocks near Baltimore in 1986. Though the volume of oil from the Kowloon Bridge was relatively small, considerable damage was done and rows over State inaction led to the creation of the Department of the Marine. In the immediate aftermath of this disaster, Cork County Council did a very good clean-up job according to Dr. Tony Lewis, director of the hydraulics and maritime research centre at University College Cork. Between the sinking of the Kowloon Bridge and the disaster at Whiddy Island, a body of experience exists in this country in terms of dealing with such incidents. Recent groundings off the east coast, such as that of the barge Skerchi off the coast of County Wicklow in April 2000, have provided useful experience. In that instance, some 7,500 gallons of diesel were safely removed.

There are stockpiles of pollution response equipment at bases in Dublin, Killybegs County Donegal and Castletownbere, County Cork. The Irish Lights tender Granuaile was designed with anti-pollution capabilities in mind. Its 50 tonne towing capacity can hold a stricken vessel offshore pending arrival of tugs. Naval Service vehicles are also equipped with limited capabilities and demonstrated them when the LE Eithne and Air Corps helped to salvage the Yarrawonga, the 85,000 tonne bulk carrier abandoned 170 miles off the west coast with 800 tonnes of fuel oil on board in January 1989.

Compensation for oil pollution of the sea is payable in accordance with the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992 liability convention, and the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992 Fund Convention. The Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Acts 1988 to 1998 give effect to these conventions. Agreement was reached at the IMO in October 2000 to increase the limit of the international fund for compensation for oil pollution damage by about 50%. These increases are to take effect on 1 November 2003. The limits specified in the 1988 to 1998 Acts need to be revised accordingly.

The purpose of this Bill is to increase the limits of compensation payable to victims of pollution resulting from spills of oil from tankers. Section 1 provides for the interpretation of terms in the Bill. Section 2 provides for the application of sections of this Bill in respect of incidents at sea. Section 3 provides for amendments to the limits of liability for pollution damage as determined in the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act 1988. Section 4 provides for amendments to the extent of liability of the fund as determined in the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act 1988. Section 5 provides for the Short Title, collective citation and construction and commencement of this Bill. It is anticipated that no additional Exchequer costs will be incurred in implementing this Bill when it is enacted. It is also anticipated that there will be no staff implications for Departments of State, State bodies or local authorities.

We have a duty and obligation to protect our coastline and environment. We need to protect seals, birds and nature in general. We have seen the horrendous damage done by oil spillages in different parts of the world. Irresponsible actions and oil spillages cannot be tolerated. We must protect our natural assets. The implications are too damning and dangerous for our coastline, country and people. We must protect what we have. Oil is an expensive commodity. Some changes will have to be made so that people and our environment come first. People cannot have it all one way.

I welcome the Bill and compliment the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern on its introduction. He knows the beauty and value of our coastline, coming as he does from a beautiful and scenic spot in County Louth. He is doing all in his power to ensure that in his term in office, we will fully protect and look after our natural resources.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2003. The Bill is an effort to further protect and maintain the beautiful coastline of our country. Like most Irish people, I am immensely proud of our natural heritage, including our coastline and the waters of the sea around us. This brings responsibilities not only for Ireland, but also on a European scale because Ireland has a disproportionately high percentage of Europe's coastline.

The Bill will help to provide further compensation to those who may suffer from the effects of a disaster in the unfortunate event that one should occur along our coast. These mainly include fishermen and those involved in the tourism industry. There have been many oil spills in the past and the amount of oil released into the world's waters is overwhelming. Millions of tonnes have sunk to our ocean floor, harming plants, animals and also resulting in human illness. There has also been a lack of funding for clean-up efforts. This Bill will help to ensure we put in place the laws, procedures and regulations necessary to minimise the dangers to Ireland.

Due to the constant disruption to the ecosystem, wildlife continues to suffer and this can cause problems for fishermen. The livelihood of this group depends on a healthy ocean environment. In 1996 the Sea Empress spilled 72,000 tonnes of oil off the coast of Milford Haven in Britain. A blanket ban on fishing was imposed on the region as a result of this extreme oil spill. The source of revenue for many fishermen was put in jeopardy due to the carelessness of the vessel operator. One thousand fishermen lost their jobs over a period of a few weeks to a few months. This devastation affected many people and businesses throughout the region.

There are a few elements that could help in the prevention of oil spills in the future. We should look at creating a set of fines and regulations for any tanker vessel travelling along our coastline. Having a limit on how close vessels are allowed to come to the shore would be a precautionary move to avoid any major damage to our shores. Another precaution would be the creation of certain limitations depending on weather conditions. There is a higher probability of accidents leading to oil spills in poor weather. A policy of forbidding tankers from coming too close to the coastline during bad weather would help to minimise the chance of a spill. There should be a limit on how close tankers can come to the shore during normal weather and that boundary should be pushed back further during bad weather to create an extra cushion. Any ship that disregards these regulations should be heavily fined. Money from this should go towards a fund for a rapid clean-up reaction. The money could be used for workers, necessary equipment and anything else that was needed to clean-up the spill as quickly as possible.

Putting a charge on all oil carrying vessels within our international waters would be another way to create revenue for this fund. However, it is important that we keep these costs down to prevent an increase in oil prices for Ireland. Oil is already an expensive commodity and, as we do not have oil reserves of our own, we have to import all our oil. It is crucial to avoid any action that would force these prices up. Finding a common balance is difficult but imperative.

It should be mandatory for all oil companies travelling through our waters to have a rapid reaction clean-up plan. By this I mean that every company that has a tanker using our waters should either have the resources, internally or externally, to take care of any problems arising from spills. By having a previously organised plan, the time lapse between an oil spill and the commencement of clean-up would be minimised. Between our efforts nationally and the efforts of the companies, the amount of damage could then be contained through swift action.

The compensation amount provided for in the Bill is important. We want to ensure people affected by disaster are fairly compensated. This is our number one priority. However, we must make sure we do not over-compensate people. If that were to happen there would be repercussions for which we are not ready. If oil companies are worried about the costs, their insurance premiums will go up and, therefore, oil prices will also go up. Finding that delicate balance in compensating those affected by an event and keeping oil companies at low cost levels should be our goal.

In February 2002 there was an incident near Nova Scotia on the Canadian coast when a helicopter patrolling the area spotted a tanker, the Baltic Confidence, which had come from the Philippines. The ship had an oil slick behind it which was 50 km wide. This illegal dumping was extraordinarily bad because it took place very near a wildlife reserve, harming a large amount of wildlife, which could have been prevented. Because of the extreme nature of the incident the company was fined $125 million, the highest such fine recorded. Of that fine, $45,000 was paid to a wildlife rescue organisation.

We are bringing the amounts covered by the Bill to the standard level of present day costs of such disasters by increasing the compensation which can be paid. However, as shown by the Baltic Confidence case, many areas suffer in such disasters and we need to make up for the damage that is caused.

The beauty and diversity of Ireland's coastline is found nowhere else in the world and its unique quality lures many tourists here each year. Our coastline should be preserved in every way possible and part of that preservation involves keeping risks to a minimum. Tourists on our coasts do not want to see large oil tankers or, worse yet, oil spills. The beauty of our island needs to be maintained and it is our responsibility to do so.

In 2002 the Prestige spilt 77,000 tonnes of oil off the northern coast of Spain with catastrophic effects not only for the coast of Spain but also for the French coast. Tourist bookings in the Aquitaine region of France fell by 50% in comparison with the previous year. Tourism is an important industry in Ireland and many citizens depend on it for their livelihood. If we had a tragedy such as the Prestige spill on our coast the repercussions would be widespread. Oil spills damage animals, ecological systems and industries, while it takes years to clean up spills completely. When fuel oil comes on to the shore, it picks up sand and sinks very quickly. Every time there is a storm subsequently oil is released from the sand back into the ocean. We want to avoid that entirely.

The focus should be on safety. It is important that our citizens feel safe, that our coastal water remains beautiful and that our fragile ecosystems are cared for. By increasing the compensation limits we are taking measures to care for people's livelihood. Fishermen need fair compensation to make sure the industry stays strong, and the same applies to tourism. There is a need for help and support from the Government so that people in those industries know that in the case of a disaster they will be taken care of. This Bill will help to provide them with that security. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Deputy Kelly has left the House but I am sure the Minister does not have to be reminded of the beautiful coastline of Clare. Like many speakers on the Order of Business this morning, I feel the Bill has been rushed through. I understand it is urgent that we pass the legislation before 1 November but I would have welcomed more debate. Last week we debated the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill, when related matters were discussed, and that Bill also got all-party support in the House.

The purpose of this Bill is to increase by approximately 50% the limits of compensation payable to victims of pollution resulting from persistent spills of oil from tankers into the sea. Compensation is payable in accordance with the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage 1992 and the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1992. The Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Acts gives effect to those conventions.

Oil is a very valuable resource and more than 50% of the oil refined in the world has to be transported worldwide by sea. Ireland and Britain are the only countries in the EU with large coastlines with the exception of Malta and Cyprus, which are joining the EU. However, those countries are located in the Mediterranean, where the waters are far quieter. Ireland has a unique geographical location, with our extremely vulnerable coastline and location on the Atlantic seaboard, and the west coast is often pounded by violent storms from the Atlantic that rage throughout the year, particularly in winter.

The west, south and north coasts are very busy navigational routes with all types of cargo being transported from the US, Europe, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. We have seen the results of many accidents in the past off our coastline. Deputy O'Donovan spoke yesterday about the tragic events of January 1979 when the Betelguese disaster in Bantry Bay caused the death of 51 people, including six locals. We also remember the Amoco Cadiz, which ran aground off the coast of Brittany in March 1978, spilling approximately 69 million tonnes of oil. That disaster is listed as the sixth worst oil spill of all time and could as easily have taken place off the coast of Ireland. My first experience of an oil disaster as a young boy was the Torrey Canyon off the coast of Land's End, which was a terrible disaster at the time.

We have also had incidents like the Exxon Valdez, which went down in Prince William Sound in Alaska in March 1989. Huge damage was done to wildlife and it took years to recover. However, it was the incident involving the Maltese-registered Erika, again off the coast of Brittany, in December 1999 that led the EU to reassess maritime safety and the protection of the marine environment. That tanker was carrying 31,000 tonnes of heavy oil, almost 20,000 tonnes of which were spilled into the sea. The arrangements which apply at international level regarding liability and compensation in respect of pollution caused by oil tankers are being examined in this case.

The process was given more importance almost 12 months ago with the Prestige incident. We all remember the television pictures of that ship as it broke up on the Spanish coast. It went down fully laden with 77,000 tonnes of fuel, causing international uproar. Many of the famous beaches on Spain's northern coast were threatened and many creatures in the marine environment were injured and killed. Everyone felt sorry for those birds covered in heavy oil, though volunteers tried to help them.

That was an outrageous incident. Portugal banned the ship from its coastline and at the time European Governments immediately called for a ban on single-hull tankers using the territorial waters of the 15 member states. Now that legislation is in place, it is important that modern vessels for transporting fuel oils are built with a double-skinned hull to ensure that if the outer hull is pierced, the inner hull will prevent a spill. I recall, as the Minister might, that the European Commission published a list of 66 single-hull tankers which were blacklisted at the time. Under European Union rules, 25% of single-hull vessels entering European Union ports must be inspected and the figures for some countries are interesting. The inspection rate in France, where most of the pollution incidents have occurred, was less than 10%. I referred to the two incidents that occurred off the coast of Brittany. The inspection rate in Ireland was 21%, in the UK it was 28% and in Italy it was 43%.

Prevention of oil disasters is far more important than cure and the EU must do more for Ireland because of our geographical location. Ireland must be given adequate funding to put in place a proper coastguard system. My colleague, Mr. John Cushnahan, MEP, has raised this matter at European level on numerous occasions. Ireland needs more ships and long-range helicopters to patrol our seas. Even though this is a small island, we have a long coastline and addressing that need is important.

Once oil tankers leave territorial waters, they wash out their hulls in international waters. This practice must be stopped as it adds to our pollution problems. One major pollution incident off our coast could destroy our fishing and tourism industries. We are all aware of the importance of the tourism and fishing industries to the west and the south. Our beaches and marine life are special. The beaches in Kerry and Clare, such as Kilkee and Kilrush, and Louisburgh in Mayo are beautiful areas and many films have been made in these locations. The last thing we want is for those beaches to be polluted. The incident that occurred last year involving the Princess Eva, a 22 year old single-hull bulk carrier caused a great scare for the people off the coast of Donegal and for the Government. Unfortunately, two people were killed in that incident and a number of crew members were badly injured. That ship was carrying 55,000 tonnes of heavy oil from Copenhagen to the US when it ran into difficulties off the Donegal coast. Thankfully, the authorities successfully transferred the oil from the stricken ship and they must be congratulated on a job well done. Had that vessel's cargo of 55,000 tonnes of heavy oil leaked into sea, one can imagine the devastation that would have been caused to the north coast of Donegal.

An important question that must be asked about incidents such as that involving the Princess Eva is whether we have the necessary equipment to deal with a potential emergency. We are familiar with the emergencies that occurred off the coast of Brittany and we have been lucky on a number of occasions here. Many speakers referred during the debate last night to the need for Ireland to have an ocean-going tug to deal with such emergencies. That is an excellent idea and the Government should pursue this at every level within the EU. Given the Minister's impending high profile during the EU Presidency, we will have an opportunity in 2004 to highlight our case for requiring an ocean-going tug which could help to divert a potential incident that could create pollution.

I live alongside the Shannon Estuary, an inland port, where there is a good deal of navigation by vessels serving Limerick, Aughinish Aluminia, Foynes and Moneypoint. Russian aviation fuel is transported on that waterway to the Shannon Aviation Company to serve the airport, which is an important service. A minor incident occurred on the estuary last year but, thankfully, pollution was avoided.

I recall some years ago before I entered politics witnessing a demonstration on the use of booms to prevent oil pollution in the Shannon Estuary. That demonstration involved a Russian company and a local company. Even though that venture did not take off, it was important to see at first hand how oil can be prevented from polluting a coast by booms being put into the sea.

I welcome the Minister's proposal to increase the compensation for people affected by oil pollution by up to 50%. I understand the total fund will be €290 million. I hope that the genuine victims who apply for compensation following an oil pollution incident will not have to go through a cumbersome, form filing procedure and will get a compensation package to redress the damage caused by pollution.

I urge that this Bill be implemented quickly. It will serve to alleviate the cost of damage and destruction caused by oil disasters. It is essential to ensure that those involved in oil transportation are asked to pay for any oil clean up, but prevention is better than a cure. I hope the quality of oil tankers operating in Irish waters is monitored – their safety is an important consideration. I commend the Bill to the House.

Cuireann an Comhaontas Glas fáilte roimh an mBille seo, an Bille um Ola-Thruailliú na Farraige (Dliteanas Sibhialta agus Cúiteamh) (Leasú) 2003, the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2003.

As the Minister said, the object of the Bill is to increase six-fold the limits of compensation available to victims of oil pollution. I note the incentive and motivation for this measure arises from serious incidents, particularly following the Erika oil disaster off the coast of France in December 1999 and other incidents involving the Prestige and other vessels mentioned by previous speakers, which remind us all too well of the catastrophe that can affect an area following an oil disaster.

I understand from what the Minister said that oil importers in EU members states which import more than 150,000 tonnes of oil a year are to be levied. In an Irish context, such importers included the ESB, the National Petroleum Corporation and Aughinish Aluminia in 2002, as each imported amounts in excess of that limit. However, the Minister also said that he does not anticipate great change. Given that he referred to a six-fold increase in limits of compensation, is it possible to say that no significant change is anticipated, or what type of change will occur as a result of that increase?

As I stated on the Order of Business, it is important that this debate should focus on where our dependency lies when it comes to oil. That is all the more important, as Deputy Pat Breen mentioned, in regard to the cost of the protection of vessels, whether that be the cost of double-hull vessels or the cost of the regulations that must be complied with. The oil sector has to carry additional costs.

The difficulty is that the system which operates, generally known as the capitalist system, depends on producing more, on continuous expansion, to survive and on resources which it has to take for granted because it is so dependent on them, but which by their very nature are running out. There is therefore an increasing tension which is manifested by very serious oil incidents involving vessels which have had to cut corners or have had untrained crew, or in the case of the Exxon Valdez, crew which was not in a fit state to operate the tanker. All these human and cost factors start to come into play and very often a disaster is the result.

It is important that we reflect on that and on the fact that oil by its finite nature will inevitably become more expensive. The demand for cheap oil will clearly continue. Corners have to be cut somehow if cheap oil is to be provided. That must be faced up to and these regulations must be strictly and rigidly implemented so that there is no cutting of corners. That will be the responsibility of the Government, given that there will be huge pressure to cut corners as oil becomes more expensive and we continue to consume more of it every year. Because oil is limited, Government policy needs to reflect the reality that a transition must take place from an oil-dependent society to one more reliant on renewable energy and more energy efficient. In that transition oil will be needed to build wind turbines, wave machines, tidal barrages, solar panels and all the other types of technology that are being developed or are already available, if we were mindful to invest further in them.

The Government has not faced up to the transition. We need such a transition to construct energies that go "Beyond Petroleum", as BP now calls itself, a fact which should surely make people realise that even the oil sector knows that the writing is on the wall. In this country more than any other we need to wake up to that message. Some 60% of primary fuel consumption in Ireland is accounted for by oil, whereas in the European Union as a whole, oil accounts for only 43% of energy consumption. The comparable figure in the US is just 40%. It is strange that this country is apparently able to ignore its dependence on oil, when in the future there will be considerable worldwide oil shortages and oil will become more expensive. Our coast too will become more vulnerable as the cost of oil has to be borne by the people transporting it.

Between 1989 and 2001, oil consumption per capita in Ireland doubled. In the same period in the rest of the European Union, oil consumption remained unchanged. As a country, we are not on top of the job of containing and reducing our dependency on oil. When it comes to economic measurement, for every 1% rise in Irish gross domestic product we have a 1.8% rise in oil consumption. In the European Union as a whole, there is only a 0.6% rise in oil consumption for every 1% rise in gross domestic product.

Rather than trying to reduce our dependency, the Government is blindly endorsing policies that will continue to increase our dependency on oil. If disasters occur as a result of ships coming to Ireland or passing by it, the Government needs to ask why it is continuing to increase oil dependency. Ireland imports nine million tonnes of oil per annum and this figure is expected to grow by 3% per annum. Current policy indicates that by 2008 one can expect to see an oil importation figure of about 12 million tonnes. That points to very serious flaws in the Government in that it does not seem to realise that when it comes to international dependence on oil, the writing is on the wall.

This Bill is welcome. We want to avoid oil disasters, but by constantly demanding something which is finite and increasingly scarce we are economically pushing those who sell oil to cut corners, because obviously they do no want to increase the price if they avoid doing so. There would be a considerable backlash if they did so. That backlash will come whether by understanding and making a transition or by ignorant revolt and rebellion. A re-evaluation of our dependence on oil will be necessary.

The Minister may be aware of a book I will refer to, but if not I would like to ensure he gets a copy. I am not sure if he is even interested at the moment.

I am listening. The Deputy should not worry.

I am delighted. I wanted to be reassured. The book I want the Minister to be aware of is Before The Wells Run Dry. It will be published tomorrow week and it is important for the Government to take note of it. Hamish McCrea and Colin Campbell, the latter a petro-geologist, now retired and living in Ireland, worked for many of the large oil companies. They are clear in their consensus that in 1964 there was a peak of oil discoveries, indicating that for every five barrels of oil used, only three new barrels are being discovered. That means that while there may currently be oil, less and less will be available in the future. In 2010 these same experts, petro-geologists who know the business very well, say there will be another production peak, after which we will begin to see oil shocks, price increases, supply difficulties and the cutting of corners, which unfortunately makes it all the more likely that oil disasters will occur.

Some 40% of all energy consumption is currently accounted for by oil, but in terms of transportation, oil accounts for 90%. I ask the Government to reflect on these matters. There is a total lack of awareness of the need to build a transition from an oil dependent economy to a renewable energy and energy efficient economy in the short to medium term.

We should listen to Deputy Ardagh, who referred to international experiences involving compensation such as is provided for in this Bill being used in a structured and constructive way. The Deputy spoke of a marine conservation centre which benefited from the compensation being paid to victims of oil pollution, which includes the marine environment, possibly indeed the main victim. I cannot recall which country he mentioned but I am sure it is on the record. The Government needs to think about Ireland's position. As an island nation, we do not have a marine conservation centre. We do not have any place where marine animals affected by pollution, be they seals or birds, can be treated and rehabilitated. How serious is this Government about marine conservation when that remains the case?

One will find a marine conservation centre in Portavogie, England or Belgium. In fact, all EU coastal countries have one, and in some cases more than one, centre. Not alone are such centres important for the rehabilitation of marine life affected by manmade disasters, they are also important tourist attractions. The Government should consider sympathetically, the case being put by the Irish Seal Sanctuary for the location of a marine conservation centre not too far from the Minister's constituency. That organisation has worked voluntarily with local authorities, the Garda Síochána and the many citizens who offer assistance following incidents of oil pollution or marine disasters. How serious is this Government about oil pollution and compensation for victims of oil pollution if it does not provide capital grand aid for such a centre?

Fingal County Council has provided a much appreciated coastal site north of Balbriggan for the location of such a centre. The site requires the type of capital investment which can only come from Government. If the Government is serious about this legislation, about oil pollution, civil liability and compensation then it has a responsibility to establish at least one marine conservation centre to assist the victims of such disasters. I ask that the Government treat sympathetically the proposal for this centre when it comes before it in whatever guise, be it tourism or whatever. It is projected based on a similar centre north of the Border, that some 60,000 tourists per annum will visit the centre. Otherwise this legislation will be seen as a sham with our having been pushed by the EU and international agreements to make changes in this regard. It will not be seen as having the interests of the Irish marine environment at heart.

The Government should ensure, if it is serious about the marine environment and compensating for oil pollution, that a marine conservation centre is established. It should accept, as a co-operative hint from Fingal County Council, that such a centre is not just needed but is also viable and that it will be a great bonus in terms of international tourism and protection of the marine environment.

I commend the Bill and hope the Government can prove its bona fides in that regard by ensuring a marine conservation centre is established.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is appropriate that my party has contributed more on this Bill which deals with the protection of the marine environment.

I wish to repeat a criticism made earlier. As party Whip, I feel it needs to be put on the record again. Understanding that the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has different legislation dealing with enhancement of the marine environment, we need to put in place, in the context of Dáil reform, a better system providing for a longer lead-in period for discussing and considering legislation such as this before international conventions are ratified. I intend taking up with the party Whips, in terms of the legislative programme introduced by Government, that dates be put on legislation if there is a need to have it ratified internationally. That would allow us to avoid situations like this in the future where we have only a day and a half to discuss Second Stage and must complete Committee Stage during the remainder of the week.

We are currently considering numerous Bills from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. As a legislative focus, that is to be welcomed. It indicates a willingness to put in place the legislative means of protecting the marine environment. Later, I will make other criticisms in terms of the willingness to provide the resources to ensure the legislative means are implemented. That is a valid political criticism.

As a Deputy for Cork South-Central, in which Cork Harbour is an integral part of the community, I have a particular interest in this Bill which seeks to bring Irish legislation into line with best current international practice. It also leaves enormous grey areas with which the international green community has yet to deal. We must place greater emphasis on civil liability and compensation regarding this type of accident. Compensation is needed initially to deal with the effects of the accident on mariculture and to clean-up the disaster. Whether the compensation funds set up and the moneys disbursed can cover the more medium and long-term costs is something we may need to look at again in the future. We must look at issues such as the long-term costs in terms of marine tourism, use of the water and beaches in and around it and how likely compensation is to be put in place. While the Bill provides for a compensation fund, how is it to be accessed? Who will be able to access it and in what circumstances? These are areas which remain to be clarified. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to speak about that during the truncated Committee Stage debate.

Much of this debate has been a litany of the major international accidents which have occurred in this area from the Exxon Valdez to the Prestige off the coast of Spain which created a mini-Spanish box of an unwanted type. We had an accident off Milford Haven in the Irish Sea a number of years ago. Given the degree of traffic to and from Ireland and the fact that we are an island nation hugely dependent on oil, we should consider ourselves lucky that more accidents of this type have not occurred in and around our waters. There are real questions about our capacity to deal with such disasters. We must acknowledge that the Irish authorities dealt quite well with such an incident last year. The Kowloon Bridge accident a number of years ago frightened many people.

The thought process which surrounds what potential dangers exist and how they might be dealt with needs to be further refined. When first elected to local government I expressed my fear in regard to the type of traffic coming in and out of Cork Harbour, some of which was oil related and some of which carried cargoes of a more dangerous type. I entered into correspondence with the then harbour master who responded by criticising me and making the argument that we should be moving towards having only double-hulled vessels coming in and out of the harbour. We are moving towards using such vessels. International policy says we must do so. The fact that, even among those responsible for looking after harbours and protecting the marine environment, a case was being made for single-hull vessels in the recent past shows it is an argument that is taking a long time to sink in, pardon the pun. I would like us to move even faster than required under European directives and international conventions in terms of moving to double-hulled vessels. I would like to see certain areas designated as sensitive in terms of the types of traffic allowed to access harbours and waterways. This would pre-empt the legislation by allowing for better than international practice and would avoid these types of accidents in the future.

The ultimate problem with the Bill in terms of civil liability and compensation is that difficulties with flags of convenience continue to haunt the commercial seafaring industry. Many rust buckets are floating on the world's waters because the companies involved are registered in a convoluted way to avoid their responsibilities and costs. The national effort to address this problem can be assisted by international agreements which would help identify those responsible. This will be a test of the effectiveness of the legislation. While I do not doubt the intent of the Bill, these concerns must be placed on record. I look forward to the Government's response.

Many of the companies involved in the excavating, transport and retail of oil products are stateless and multinational. They go from country to country to establish different bases and they try to avoid allegiances and loyalties to any state. It must be asked to what extent international agreements can be put in place to make these companies responsible for what they are likely to do.

I and my party welcome the Bill as it greatly strengthens the legislation in this area. However, I am concerned at the extent to which the Government will provide the necessary resources to implement its provisions and ensure that accidents of the type referred to do not recur or, if they do, that they are at least properly dealt with. In this regard, I look forward to the Government's position on the use of devises, such as booms in harbours, breakdown agents and fire retardants.

To assuage public concerns that accidents will be properly dealt with, there must be a clear Government position on the amount of resources to be provided and how they will be used. In the debate on the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill, I said the Irish Coast Guard is an underused resource in terms of watching for and dealing quickly with accidents. The Government should give serious consideration to ensuring it is properly resourced.

My party supports the general thrust of the Bill, although we are disappointed with the manner of its introduction to the House. Nevertheless, we encourage the Department to continue to produce legislation of this type to address the many other issues necessary to provide for comprehensive legislation dealing with the protection of the marine environment. The Green Party will be prepared to support the Government if it takes this approach in an effort to ensure such legislation is enacted.

I thank Deputies for their thoughtful and constructive contributions. They have expressed support for the Bill, which the Government is anxious to have passed as quickly as possible.

A number of Deputies referred to the timing of the introduction of the Bill. When preparing it, the Department, while aware of the deadline of 1 November 2003 regarding the application of increased levels of compensation, was conscious of the necessity to introduce legislation to give effect to a number of international instruments with regard to the prevention of pollution from ships. It was considered desirable and most efficient to include all these items in one Bill, if possible. The Sea Pollution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003, a wide-ranging Bill dealing with aspects of the marine environment, was to fulfil this requirement. However, in view of the approaching deadline, the provisions relating to the increased limits were fast-tracked and published separately.

The Bill as published was amended by the Seanad and the amended Bill before the House includes amendments to the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Acts 1988 to 1999, which relate to the supplementary fund protocol. Drafting work had commenced in January 2003 prior the adoption of the protocol at international level but provisions relating to the protocol were not included in the Bill when it was first published. As both sets of provisions involved amendments to the same legislation, it was considered more efficient and rational to include both elements in the same Bill. This explains some of the amendments agreed to in the Seanad.

The purpose of the International Marine Organisation Convention is to mitigate the consequences of major oil pollution incidents involving, in particular, ships, offshore units, seaports and oil handling facilities. The objective is to facilitate international co-operation and mutual assistance in preparing for and responding to a major oil pollution incident and to encourage states to develop and maintain an adequate capability to deal with oil pollution emergencies.

The Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act 1999 implemented the 1990 international convention on oil pollution preparedness, response and co-operation and provides for pollution plans to be in place for Ireland's ports and for a national contingency plan. Progress is being made to proceed with the national oil spill contingency plan and the approval of harbour plans.

In the event of a major pollution incident, the Irish Coast Guard is responsible for the direction and co-ordination of the sea and on-shore response. In the context of the incident involving the tanker Prestige and a similar incident happening off Ireland's coast, the following would apply: notification of the incident would be received through the Irish Coast Guard marine communications network; Irish Coast Guard search and rescue helicopters can be used for air surveillance for small incidents during daylight hours while for other oil spillage incidents, tracking would be contracted from outside the country. The Irish Coast Guard has computer modelling decision support systems to predict the fate and behaviour of the oil spill. Intervention on the scene would be by way of contracting suitable tugs, on the domestic or European market. Salvage expertise is available within the resources of the Irish Coast Guard marine and safety directorate while incident co-ordination would be carried out by the Irish Coast Guard marine rescue co-ordination centre and locally by a joint response centre, JRC, set up specifically to deal with the incident. The JRC would bring together local authorities, environmental experts and response operations personnel to respond to an incident.

A number of Deputies referred to the importance of response equipment. The Irish Coast Guard does not own pollution response vessels, but is in a position to obtain them from our European neighbours. The coast guard has tier three national pollution equipment stockpiles in Dublin, Killybegs and Castletownbere. A pool of trained personnel who have attended national training courses from harbour and local authorities can also be called upon. The coast guard also has contracts with specialist companies dealing with oil spill responses to provide equipment and personnel in the event of a tier three response.

In response to a specific point raised by a Deputy, a private company based in Cork owns a tug which normally operates out of the Shannon estuary. The vessel is normally used for berthing large vessels in the estuary. For example, it was used during the Princess Eva incident.

The Irish Coast Guard maintains close links with the EU Commission civil protection and environmental accident unit, which can call for immediate assistance should an event similar to the Prestige occur in the Irish pollution responsibility zone. As a result of this co-operation, the coast guard sent 1,200 metres of boom and oil recovery equipment to Spain to assist its authorities with the Prestige incident. Ireland is in the process of acceding to the Bonn agreement between north European countries, which provides for mutual support on marine pollution incidents. Ireland is also a member of the EU marine pollution management committee, which provides experts and support drawn from other member states.

Recently, the Irish Coast Guard received funding to provide for a marine pollution and salvage section in its operation unit. The coast guard has in the past successfully responded to all incidents and the handling of the Princess Eva incident was not only down to good luck but also good management. This year the coast guard has successfully responded to nine incidents involving vessels that posed a threat of marine pollution.

A number of Members raised the issue of an emergency towing vessel. The primary role of such a vessel is to provide a towing service to minimise oil pollution of the coastline resulting from drift strandings. If there is an oil spillage, the emergency towing vessel can also act as a response vessel by deploying booms and other skimmers.

In May 1998 an emergency towing vessel study was commissioned by the Government. The study was published in May 1999 and in May 2000 the Government agreed in principle to the recommendations of the study to provide an emergency towing vessel. A memorandum is being prepared for Government with a view to recommending the procurement of such a vessel for south west approaches and the Irish Sea.

Single-hull tankers were also referred to by a number of Members. The Minister outlined details of the procedures for the phasing out of single-hull tankers in his contribution. The international nature of shipping requires that in order for action in this regard to be effective, it should be taken by groups of countries rather than by small countries individually. We therefore support measures at EU and international level to deal with single-hull tankers.

Deputy Sean Ryan sought clarification on the PSSA request. This request was considered by the MEPC in July 2003. It agreed, in principle, to the request for designation and referred the matter to an expert navigation committee for examination. The committee is expected to report to the MEPC next year. The MEPC did not accede to the request to ban tankers as proposed. It is open to the states concerned to introduce other protective measures. Proposals in this regard are under consideration by the officials and experts concerned.

Deputy Sargent raised the issue of a marine conservation centre and I will take this up with the relevant section in my Department, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and others involved. The Deputy would be happy if such a centre was successful and it would also attract many tourists.

It is essential.

The issue will be taken on board. Deputy Coveney referred to surveillance capacity. We have full confidence in the Defence Forces and the Minister is prepared to work with all concerned in this regard. Deputy Broughan raised the coastal protection strategy study and it is hoped that will be published in early 2004.

The issue of flags of convenience was highlighted by a number of Members. I have noted their concerns and I have taken on board the points raised regarding damage to the environment. Deputy O'Donovan mentioned Bantry Bay, Conoco Phillips and other issues.

Does the Minister of State have information on the emergency towing vessel, which was promised a number of years ago?

In May 1998 an emergency towing vessel study was commissioned by the Government. The study was published in May 1999 and in May 2000 the Government agreed in principle to the recommendations of the study to provide an emergency towing vessel. A memorandum is being prepared for Government with a view to recommending the procurement of such a vessel for south west approaches and the Irish Sea.

I thank Members for their input to the debate over the past two days. I am sure they will table amendments for Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.