President of the Irish Maritime Law Association, Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Cead mile failte romhaibh go leir anseo inniu.
I would like to congratulate the Irish Maritime Law Association for their initiative in hosting this Seminar which brings together so many interested parties in marine matters for what I am sure will be a very useful seminar.
Having reviewed the topics to be discussed at today’s seminar, I am pleased to note the active involvement of the Irish Maritime Law Association and its continuing liaison with my Department.
I would like to update you on some major initiatives and work, which my Department has or is currently undertaking.
As you are aware the establishment of a Maritime Safety Directorate within my Department to undertake the State's Marine Regulatory Safety Services, including the co-ordination of all aspects of safety at sea has led to a more effective and co-ordinated regulation of the maritime sector.
The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) who undertake independent investigations into marine casualties was established in 2002. The MCIB has published over 60 reports, available at www.mcib.ie .
This ensures that the lessons learnt from such events have been clearly identified and action taken, where possible, to prevent recurrences.
With regard to hydrographic services I am pleased to announce that Ireland has made an application to become a member of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO). The IHO is an intergovernmental consultative and technical organisation, established to support safety in navigation and the protection of the marine environment.
Improving the accuracy, interpretation and availability of hydrographic information is important to a growing range of Irish marine economic activities including shipping, fishing, aquaculture, offshore hydrocarbons and renewable energy.
Membership of the IHO will provide Ireland with access to technical and administrative expertise to assist in the coordination of hydrographic activities. Ultimately it will ensure the greatest possible uniformity in the production of nautical data, charts and documents to ensure safe navigation in Irish waters.
In Ireland the Maritime Safety Directorate of my Department is responsible for co-ordinating our membership of the IHO and for ensuring that all of our SOLAS obligations are dealt with in a coherent manner.
This last year has seen significant developments in the maritime security area.
New provisions for ships and port facilities have been in place since 1 July 2004, following the adoption of the International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) Code by the IMO in December 2002, and EU Regulation 725/2004, which harmonised implementation in Member States.
In effect, security assessments & approved security plans are now required for cargo ships over 500 tonnes and passenger ships, when engaged in international voyages,
mobile offshore drilling units, and the port facilities serving them.
The required ships and port facilities have all been approved. I would like to acknowledge the great effort made by all concerned in meeting the deadline of 1 July 04 including the Irish Maritime Law Association which devoted a session of its last seminar in 2003 to this topic.
I am now in the process of now establishing a National Monitoring Committee and Ireland like all other EU Member States will be subject to unannounced maritime security inspections by the European Commission in the near future.
Owing to the international nature of shipping, action to prevent pollution of the marine environment is most effective when taken by agreement at regional or international level. Our valuable but vulnerable coastline has convinced us of the importance of achieving the highest standards of safety on ships. Ireland has consistently supported measures in this regard at international level.
Several pieces of primary legislation has been introduced, together with appropriate secondary legislation to enable the State to become party to International Instruments (including SOLAS, OPRC, OSPAR and Torremolinos) ensuring a clear and effective statutory framework for the highest international standards covering maritime safety and marine environmental protection.
New consultation procedures have been introduced for the first time as an alternative approach to continuous regulation particularly aimed at improving safety in the recreational sector. These include legislation to introduce the compulsory wearing of Lifejackets, a new "at Sea" life jacket monitoring programme at Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour in 2004, and the publication of a consultation document on a Safety Code of Practice on Recreational Craft.
The Department has also introduced a range of new safety measures relating to Fishing Vessels, including a Safety Code of Practice for Fishing Vessels, Mandatory Safety Training for Fishermen and Regulations governing Safety Equipment & Fire Fighting appliances for Fishing Vessels. The benefits from these measures include providing a safer working environment for the fishing industry and, in the long term, to reduce accidents and loss of life on board fishing vessels.
I would like to advise you of some of the most recent developments in relation to the marine environment including the establishment of a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area, PSSA, off Western Europe; this followed a proposal submitted by six EU Member States including Ireland, which was approved at the IMO.
This extends to approximately 200 nautical miles off of our western coastline; a mandatory reporting system for single hull oil tankers carrying heavy fuel oil is being introduced with effect from 1 July 2005.
I would also like to advise that political agreement was reached by EU maritime transport ministers under the Irish EU Presidency in June 2004 on sanctions for pollution from ship sources; the matter has been considered by the European Parliament and I understand that both Parliament and Council are expected to adopt a text in the near future; Member States will then need to introduce the necessary measures.
Currently my Department has two Bills which are going through the Oireachtas to give effect to a number of conventions and other measures which have been agreed in the international arena; these include prevention of air pollution from ships and instruments which build on existing liability and compensation measures.
Last month a Supplementary Fund to vastly increase the compensation available to victims of oil pollution came into force; Ireland was one of the original eight parties, which enabled this to take place.
I understand that some of these developments are to be the subject of discussion later in the day. I would also like to remind you of the significant step taken by the EU and the IMO on the 5th of this month when the accelerated phasing out of the older single hull oil tankers began.
This is a major milestone in improving our marine environment and over coming years more single hull oil tankers will be phased out.
Let me finally take the opportunity to advise you of the Maritime Safety Bill which has been prepared by my Department to address concerns regarding the improper use of fast powered craft such as jet skis on Irish waters.
The Bill confers on local authorities, clear bye-law making powers to regulate and control the operation of personal watercraft and mechanically propelled recreational craft.
There are also provisions relating to on the spot fines, as well as the seizure, detention and forfeiture of craft involved in offences and for prohibition from operating craft by serious offenders, in the interest of public safety.
The next stage of the bill is scheduled for early next week.
Finally in conclusion, I would thank the Irish Maritime Law Association for giving me the opportunity to open this seminar and I wish you all a successful and fruitful day.