The purposes of the Bill are:
firstly, to provide powers to control dumping at sea from ships, aircraft or marine structures and thus enable effective steps to be taken to prevent the pollution of the sea by substances and materials that are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea, and secondly, to enable Ireland to ratify two international conventions, namely,
—the 1972 Oslo Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft, and
—the London Convention of the same year on the prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter.
In recent years international concern has been growing in regard to the risk of pollution of the sea through the deliberate dumping of noxious substances from ships, where the ship's voyage is undertaken for the specific purpose of getting rid of some hazardous substance. The first incident of this kind to attract widespread international attention occurred in 1970, when an attempt was made to dump a cargo of poisonous chemical waste in the Atlantic. Representations by a number of west European countries, including Ireland, led to the cancellation of the attempted dumping, but the incident served to focus attention on the growing practice of disposing of harmful substances by dumping them at sea and on the need for concerted action to prevent and combat marine pollution.
International action was taken by way of the two conventions I have already mentioned. The Oslo Convention, which came into force in April 1974 and has been ratified by 12 countries, applies, broadly speaking, to the sea areas northwards of Gibraltar and eastward of Greenland, including the North Sea, but excluding the Mediterranean and the Baltic—to which separate regional dumping conventions apply.
The Oslo Convention provides principally that contracting states shall ensure that, within the sea areas covered by the convention:
(a) the dumping of certain specified highly toxic substances shall be prohibited as well as other substances listed in Annex I to the convention:
(b) the dumping in significant quantities of other less toxic substances or other substances and materials which may present a serious obstacle to fishing or navigation or seriously reduce amenities shall require for each occasion of dumping a specific permit from the national authority concerned; these substances and materials are listed in Annex II of the convention:
(c) the dumping of any other substance or material shall require the approval of the national authority concerned; and
(d) each national authority shall, in issuing permits or approvals for dumping at sea, take into account certain specified factors listed in Annex III to the convention, for example, characteristics of waste, dumping site, method of deposit and so forth.
For the purpose of the Oslo Convention, dumping is defined as the deliberate disposal of substances and materials into the sea from ships, including fixed or floating platforms, or aircraft, other than any discharge incidental to the normal operation of a ship or aircraft, or the placing of substances or materials for a purpose other than the mere disposal thereof, provided that this is not contrary to the aim of the convention. The latter exception would, for example, cover the use of disperants at sea to deal with an oil spillage.
Each state ratifying the Oslo Convention undertakes to ensure compliance by its own ships and aircraft, by ships and aircraft of any country loading in its territory substances and materials with a view to dumping, and by ships and aircraft of any country dumping within its territorial seas, and to take appropriate measures to prevent and punish conduct in contravention of the convention. Vessels entitled to sovereign immunity under international law, such as naval vessels are exempted from the terms of the convention, although states are expected to ensure that in practice they comply as far as possible. Contracting states also agree to assist one another as appropriate in dealing with dumping incidents and to exchange information on methods of dealing with such incidents.
The London Convention, which came into force in August 1975 and has been ratified by 45 countries, is in substance and form generally similar in most respects to the Oslo Convention. Its scope is much wider, however, in that it applies to all the seas and oceans of the world. It has a number of other differences and variations of emphasis. For example, it specifically prohibits the dumping of high level radioactive waste declared by the International Atomic Energy Agency as unsuitable for dumping at sea and also the dumping of mineral oils taken on board for the purpose of dumping, Incineration at sea as a means of waste disposal is also controlled by the convention.
The prohibitions on dumping at sea imposed by the Oslo and London conventions are specially expressed in the conventions not to apply in case of force majeure due to stress of weather or any other cause, when safety of human life or of a ship, aircraft or marine structure is threatened, if dumping appears to be the only way to avert the threat, but full details of the occurrence are required to be reported to the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation (IMCO), which administers the London Convention, and, as appropriate, to the Oslo Commission. If, in an emergency, a state considers that a prohibited substance cannot be disposed of on land without unacceptable danger or damage, it is obliged under the conventions to consult with IMCO and, where appropriate, the Oslo Commission, which shall recommend the most satisfactory methods of storage, destruction or disposal in the circumstances.
As an island nation we have a particular interest in preventing pollution of the sea and in the general protection of the marine environment, in the interests of human health, marine life and amenities. Ireland's geographical position, in conjunction with the pattern of prevailing winds and currents, renders it particularly vulnerable to the effects of dumping of harmful substances in the North Atlantic. The danger of our situation is accentuated by the natural tendency of vessels engaged in dumping, on economic grounds, to choose a dumping site no further west into the Atlantic than is absolutely necessary. By joining with other nations in taking measures for the strict control of dumping at sea of toxic, noxious and other objectionable materials, we will be protecting our own interests and at the same time contributing to international efforts to improve protection of the marine environment generally for the benefit of all humanity.
As an indication of support for the international objectives in this area, Ireland is already a signatory to both the Oslo and London conventions. However, it is only by ratification of the conventions and enforcement of their provisions that we can demonstrate our full commitment to them. I can tell the Seanad that it is the Government's intention to ratify both conventions as soon as possible after the Dumping at Sea Bill is enacted.
Basically, the Bill is a very simple one. In accordance with the provisions of the convention, it prohibits dumping at sea or loading at a place within the state or in its territorial seas for dumping at sea, from any vessel, aircraft or marine structure, of any substance or material, unless such dumping or loading takes place under and in accordance with a permit granted under section 3 of the Bill or under an authorisation granted by another state that is party to either convention. This prohibition on dumping will apply, firstly, to all sea areas under our jurisdiction, including tidal waters, and secondly, anywhere at sea where the vessel, aircraft or marine structure concerned in the dumping is Irish.
As in the conventions, provision is made in the Bill whereby the restrictions on dumping will not apply in certain emergency situations, but the Bill also provides that any such dumping must be reported to the Minister not later than seven days after it takes place.
For the purposes of the Bill, dumping means deliberate disposal at sea, including disposal by incineration, of any substance or material from a vessel, aircraft or marine structure. It includes disposal of material from dredgers or other such vessels specially constructed for the disposal of materials at sea but excludes disposal incidental to the normal operation of the vessel, aircraft or marine structure. Disposal of materials directly into the sea from a land based source is not comprehended by the Bill. This is controlled by the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, which also controls dumping into rivers and lakes.
In so far as oil pollution is concerned, the Bill applies to deliberate dumping of oil but does not apply to the accidental discharge of oil from ships such as spills arising from a marine casualty. The oil Pollution of the Sea Acts, 1956 to 1977, cover such incidents and provide for heavy penalties for pollution damage, even where spills are accidental.
Dispersants used for combating oil pollution are likewise excluded from the scope of the Bill. A strict licensing requirement on the lines envisaged in the Bill would not be appropriate for such substances which have to be used at short notice. The use of these substances is already subject to control by the Department of Fisheries and Forestry under the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959.
Section 3 of the Bill provides for the grant or refusal of permits for dumping or for loading for the purpose of dumping. Before taking a decision on any application for permits, the Minister will have to consult with the Ministers for the Environment, Fisheries and Forestry, Industry, Commerce and Tourism and Energy and he will also have to take into consideration the provisions of Annex III of both the Oslo and London conventions, which are set out in the table to section 3 of the Bill. Provision is being made for charging a fee in respect of an application for a permit and for an additional fee related to the cost of any monitoring, surveys and examinations necessary in any case in which it is proposed to grant a permit.
To provide for the enforcement of the provisions of the Bill, it is proposed under section 4 that authorised officers may be appointed by the Minister and, in the case of radioactive substances and materials, by the Minister for Energy. In addition, authorised officers may be appointed, specifically in respect of the harbours under their control, by the various harbour authorities, the Commissioners of Public Works and Córas Impair Éireann. It is intended that an authorised officer will have wide powers enabling him, inter alia, to enter any vehicle, place or premises, to board any vessel, aircraft or marine structure and to carry out any inspection and examination which he considers reasonably necessary. He will be empowered to detain a vessel, aircraft or marine structure if he suspects that a contravention of the Act is taking place or has already taken place.
The Bill provides for the prosecution of offences and specifies the penalties for such offences. In particular, it provides for substantial penalties, including imprisonment in certain cases, for contraventions of the restrictions on dumping imposed by section 2. It is the Minister's hope that the possibility of substantial penalties on conviction will be an effective deterrent to would-be offenders.
Up to the present, dumping at sea originating from Irish ports has not constituted a problem. Some treated sewage sludge is dumped in Dublin Bay by Dublin Corporation and material dredged by harbour authorities in connection with harbour maintenance or improvement works is dumped at various places around the Irish coast.
Some industrial wastes are dumped off the south coast in accordance with licences issued by the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry under the Fisheries Consolidation Act, 1959. Dumping of this nature will also be comprehended by the provisions of the Bill.
The spirit of the Oslo and London conventions is that harmful dumping at sea should be prevented as far as possible and it is the Minister's intention that the Bill will be administered in the same spirit. Applicants for permits will have to satisfy him that there is no suitable alternative means of disposal of the substances for which they seek a permit and, where necessary, before any permit is granted special tests and investigations will be carried out to assess the possible effects of the proposed dumping.
I would like to draw special attention to the fact that provision is made in section 3(8) whereby, in the case of radioactive substances and materials, the powers under this Bill will be vested in the Minister for Energy rather than in the Minister for Transport. This will avoid a duality of responsibility in relation to those substances and materials.
I strongly recommend the Bill to the House.