Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Dáil Eireann Debate
Tomás Mac Giolla: asked the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry the precautions which have been taken to prevent the contamination of fish stocks arising from the grounding of the Kowloon Bridge off Cork; if he is taking any measures to ensure that the image and reputation of Irish fish and fish products do not suffer as a result of international publicity on the grounding of the ship; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. J. Browne: asked the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry if he has taken action to protect herring spawning grounds from the oil slick from the Kowloon Bridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: asked the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry if he is aware of the widespread anxiety in the south-west regarding the threat to sea birds and nature habitats in coastal areas from the oil slicks from the Kowloon Bridge; the efforts he is making to  control and monitor the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. J. Walsh: asked the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry if he is aware of the danger to fishing beds off the south west coast resulting from oil leakage from the Kowloon Bridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: asked the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry the action he proposes to take to protect spawning fish, fish farms and marine life generally from the oil slicks at present threatening the south west coast from the Kowloon Bridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Daly: asked the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry if any action has been taken by him to minimise the risk to marine life, fishing activities, fish stocks, sea birds, unique nature reserves and habitats in the south west coast area arising from oil seepage from the Kowloon Bridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
My Department are co-operating fully with the operations group to ensure that damage to fisheries, wildlife and habitats in the area is prevented or curtailed to the minimum. Specially constructed protective booms have been put in place across the entrance to the Lough Hyne Marine Nature Reserve. Wildlife staff are patrolling beaches along the southern coast to locate and treat any wild birds found to be contaminated by oil.
Members of my Department's staff and officials of the South Western Regional Fisheries Board are also monitoring the situation and advising on the protection of fisheries. My Department have taken samples of fish and oil for analysis.
Proinsias De Rossa: Has there been any indication to date of the extent of damage to fish stocks or indeed to the coastal areas concerned? Can the Minister also indicate what specific action — other than having wildlife staff patrolling beaches — his Department are taking to prevent this?
Mr. Kavanagh: I can tell the Deputy that there is a slick of oil coming from the submerged tanker of approximately 30 meters wide, flowing due east, which is visible for about three or four miles. My Department, the Department of the Environment — which is the leading Department dealing with oil slicks — the Department of Communications and the local authorities in the area are involved in this whole operation. They are monitoring the situation between Roches Point and Youghal and between Lough Hyne and Rosscarbery. I can inform the Deputy that 270 dead birds have been found by Departmental staff and they are mostly guillemots. In addition, approximately 120 lightly-oiled birds have been observed. These are gulls, oyster catchers and rain plover. Reports received from other concerned groups suggest that about 30 other birds have been killed by oil. With regard to the Deputy's other supplementary question about fish, I can tell him that only today as I was leaving my Department I met our official from the area. He is satisfied that the fish life in the area is not being affected to any great degree. Continual monitoring will be maintained in the area to ensure that the position does not deteriorate.
Mr. Daly: The Minister must be aware that the whole episode of the Kowloon Bridge and the way it has been handled by the Minister involved leaves a lot to be desired. The Minister must be aware also that we very nearly had a major catastrophe in the whole south west area and the prevention of such a catastrophe was due more to good luck rather than  any action taken by the Minister or his Department. Can the Minister give us some indication now of how the situation will be dealt with because there is widespread anxiety that major damage will be done not only to stocks but to existing mariculture projects and other marine life there? Is he aware furthermore that people are not satisfied that his Department, who have responsibility there, are prepared adequately to deal with that situation?
Mr. Kavanagh: I cannot agree with the Deputy that there has been any degree of slackness or laxity shown by any of the Departments responsible. As he will be aware, the leading Department with regard to the application of controls in this area is the Department of the Environment. The Department concerned with both ships involved in the area is the Department of Communications. I can tell the Deputy also that as soon as the problem arose officials from all Departments were despatched to that area and operations commenced. Great credit is due to everybody involved that the damage that resulted was contained to one ship so far and has been to a very limited degree. The actions subsequently taken have been all that could have been taken by any Department operating as they did so effectively and quickly after the accident. The fact of two major catastrophes happening in the area — the Kowloon Bridge and the Capo Emma events — at the same time created a problem for members of the staffs of both Departments and the local authority but immediately it happened and by 7.30 a.m. on 24 November, control centres were set up in both Skibbereen and Bantry to deal with the risks from the two ships. The priority areas in the vicinity of the Stags Rock including Lough Hyne, were identified and immediate arrangements made to protect some of them by using booms. It was also necessary to concentrate on protection of shore and clean up measures, as fuel oil from the Kowloon Bridge did not respond to dispersement.
The Deputy is wrong in saying that  there was any mismanagement; the opposite was the case. There was a great deal of activity to ensure that the danger to animal life, fish life and the tourist areas around the southern coast was minimised.
Mr. Daly: The Minister is well aware that if adequate action had been taken this matter need never have arisen. If a detention order had been served on the Kowloon Bridge she need never have left the vicinity. However, that is a separate issue. How many personnel from the Minister's Department were involved in this area and were specialist people available to advise what action should be taken, for instance, for the protection of wild birds and fish stocks there?
Mr. Kavanagh: I assure the Deputy that, first, the Department to which he referred originally in his supplementary question should have been the Department of Communications. I am satisfied that the action they took was the proper action in the circumstances. Second, as regards my Department, again I assure him that the operations group who were set up in 1984 as the result of another problem on the Irish Sea represent all those Departments. These are the Departments of the Environment, Communications, Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry and Defence as well as the local authorities, Waterford County Council. Cork County Council, members from the Dublin Port and Docks Board and the Department of Energy. My Department's officials are involved as are members of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board and the South-Western Regional Fisheries Board as required.
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