Written answers

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

11:00 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Question 243: To ask the Minister for Transport his reaction to the oil slick off the west coast in February 2009; the origin of the slick; the action he will take against those responsible for the slick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7416/09]

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Question 251: To ask the Minister for Transport his reaction to the oil slick off the west coast in February 2009; if he is satisfied that all actions are being taken to lessen the impact of the slick reaching the Irish coastline; the origin of the slick; the action he will take against those responsible for the slick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7415/09]

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State with special responsibility for Road Safety, Department of Transport; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 243 and 251 together.

The Irish Coast Guard of my Department has the role of safeguarding the quality of the marine environment from ship sourced pollution through the provision of an efficient and effective response to marine casualty and pollution incidents from vessels and offshore platforms in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone. This includes casualty response to vessels in need of assistance and pollution response arising from the threat of, or actual spillage or loss of oil or hazard and noxious substances (HNS), which threaten the Irish coastline or related interests.

On 14 February, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) advised the Coast Guard's Marine Rescue Coordination Centre, Dublin that satellite surveillance indicated a possible pollution incident 50 miles South-west of the Fastnet Rock. The Air Corps CASA Aircraft was tasked by the Coast Guard to investigate. Photos from the CASA overflights showed the Russian aircraft carrier 'Admiral Kuznetsov' at anchor in 90 metres of water, and an oil tanker tendered astern. There was another Russian oil tanker and Russian ocean going tug close by. In the area of the vessels was an oil slick of approximately 22 square miles. A Coast Guard helicopter later confirmed this sighting.

The Russian Authorities confirmed on 16th February that the carrier had been carrying out a fuel transfer operation from a Russian supply tanker at sea. An internal Russian investigation is being carried out into the cause of the incident. The Coast Guard requested regular aerial surveillance flights from the UK Coastguard, using various specialist sensors onboard their aircraft. It was estimated that, the spill was between 700 and 1100 tonnes of fuel oil spreading out in distinct slicks. Estimates of oil spilt on water are highly difficult to estimate, as slick thickness can be variable over the length of the slick and, in the absence of data from a polluter, is difficult to accurately gauge.

LE Aisling, and HMS Gloucester took samples of the oil from the scene for testing by a specialist laboratory in Scotland. Results are awaited. LE Aoife also took samples for analysis. The Russian Embassy is supplying samples of the oils carried onboard the Russian tankers and the aircraft carrier and the material data sheet for the oil. The Coast Guard continue to daily monitor the slick with its own Helicopters and Air Corps Casa.

The Coast Guard contracted an Irish Shannon-based tug MV Celtic Isle which utilised skimmers and other oil recovery equipment with limited success due to the dispersed nature of the spill and weather conditions. The Coast Guard engaged, but later stood down, the EMSA recovery vessel, as their estimate of the situation supported by international advice concluded that its use would not be productive. Pollution recovery equipment has been readied at Coast Guard stores to be deployed at sea and on the southeast coastline if needed in coordination with local authorities.

Coast Guard computer modelling of the spill show that some more of the oil is expected to evaporate or dissolve into the water column. The residual oil remaining may develop into tar balls and may end up on the Irish South east coast. The Coast Guard convened an inter-Governmental Group to monitor and advise on the situation and potential impact to the coastline and marine environment. Local authorities would recover any oil coming ashore on the coast mechanically with assistance from the Coast Guard who will direct the shore response. A Russian delegation sought to meet with the Coast Guard and this was arranged.

I am satisfied with the action taken to date. The incident highlights the constant need for preparedness, prevention and response to maritime incidents. I also want to acknowledge the national and international cooperation which assisted in dealing with this incident to date. As I have stated, the Coast Guard was able to call on many state agencies in co-ordinating an effective response. Furthermore, the nature of the response and degree of support from UK agencies was much appreciated.

I want to place on the record my particular appreciation and recognition of the part EMSA plays in this area and their specific role in this case. Follow up action, including potential cost recovery, is still under consideration at this time.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Question 244: To ask the Minister for Transport the policy of foreign owned ships refuelling at sea either in Irish owned waters or in waters monitored by Irish authorities; if there is a notification mechanism in place to alert Irish authorities in the event of any accidents caused by foreign ships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7418/09]

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Question 252: To ask the Minister for Transport the policy of foreign owned ships refuelling at sea either in Irish waters or in waters monitored by authorities here; if there is a notification mechanism in place to alert authorities here in the event of accidents caused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7417/09]

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State with special responsibility for Road Safety, Department of Transport; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 244 and 252 together.

The Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act, 1999 prohibits refuelling at sea in Irish waters except by permit of the Minister. The Irish Coast Guard of the Department of Transport in its role to safeguard the quality of the marine environment from ship-sourced pollution issues such permits under a detailed schedule of procedures based on international guidelines. Under the same legislation there is a duty on the master of a ship concerned, involved or observing an oil pollution incident or the likelihood of an incident in excess of a certain minimum level to report the incident to the authorities. The requirements of the Sea Pollution Act, 1991 do not apply to any warship or to any ship for the time being used by the government of any country for purposes other than commercial purposes.

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