Thursday, 20 June 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
2. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Marine if he was represented at the inquest into the death of a passenger on the MV Norrona on 9 April 1990 which was recently held in Haverford West, Wales and at which the jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing; if he has carried out any inquiry into the fire on the MV Norrona on 9 April 1990 or if he has received a report of any investigation into the fire which has been carried out by B & I or by police authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): The passenger vessel Norrona is registered under the Danish flag and the casualty to which the Deputy refers occurred in British waters. This Administration, therefore, has no competence in the case as responsibility for the holding of investigations into the incident was a matter for the British and Danish authorities. Notwithstanding this and in view of the fact that the vessel was on charter to  B & I Line and manned by a mainly Irish crew, after the incident the Minister appointed Captain Christopher Davies, a surveyor of the Department of the Marine, to investigate the incident from the point of view of maritime safety and to report to him on the outcome. Captain Davies' report was prepared with the co-operation of the B & I Line.
The Department of the Marine are working on an ongoing basis, both with B & I and other ferry operators, to ensure that the highest standards of safety are achieved on all ferries using Irish ports. Following the fire on board the M.V. Norrona the master and crew of the vessel were awarded a certificate of Commendation by the chief fire officer of Dyfed County Fire Brigade in recognition of the manner in which they controlled the fire, effected rescues and ensured the safety of passengers.
Investigations into the cause of the incident are a matter for the Dyfed-Powys police in Wales. I understand that the matter is still sub judice there and I have not seen any police report. The casualty occurred in British waters and resulted in the death of a UK citizen, and official Irish representation at the inquest was not considered necessary. I understand, however, that the B & I Line were represented at the inquest. The official report of the coroner has not yet been prepared in the UK but when it becomes available it will be studied for any lesson which might be learnt from the maritime safety viewpoint. When this and any other report on the case come to hand, it is proposed to meet B & I management so as to review safety procedures in the light of the Norrona incident.
Mr. Gilmore: I am surprised that the Minister appears to be adopting a hand washing attitude to this incident in view of the fact that the vessel was chartered by an Irish company at the time. May I ask the Minister if the Davies report to which he referred was conducted before or after the inquest which returned a verdict of unlawful killing and if he will agree to have the findings of the report made known? Perhaps he can inform the  House now of the principal findings in the report.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): The Davies report deals with the matter purely from the point of view of maritime safety. The fire was extinguished by the crew of the vessel before the rescue services arrived, and the crew have been commended for this. Failings which are noted in the report are being pursued by the National Ferry Safety Committee and the marine fire response groups. I want to assure the Deputy that we are not taking a casual approach to this matter.
Irish registered passenger vessels are required to be equipped, maintained and operated to the highest international standards and in particular to those laid down in the International Maritime Organisation's Safety of Life at Sea Convention, 1974, known as SOLAS, which contains provisions concerning life saving appliances, stability, navigational facilities, fire protection, construction, surveys, radio installations and the carriage of dangerous goods. As the Deputy knows, the SOLAS Convention has given legal effect to this matter by a set of 33 statutory instruments. Passenger vessels registered in the State and foreign registered vessels within our territorial waters are required to comply with requirements laid down in these instruments.
Marine surveyors of the Department have powers under the Merchant Shipping Act to detain vessels which do not comply with these requirements. Therefore, far from washing our hands of the matter we are very much involved.
Mr. Gilmore: I join with the Minister in praising the crew for the manner in which they dealt with the fire. I ask the Minister to give some indication of the failings identified in the Davies report. As the Minister considered the issue sufficiently serious to warrant the appointment of Captain Davies to carry out an inquiry, why were his Department not represented at the inquest? Surely it was a grave omission on the part of the Minister to have no representative from his  Department at the inquest? Could the Minister give the House an explanation for that?
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Wilson): It was found to be not necessary for the Department to be represented at the inquest for the reasons I have outlined to the Deputy. I understand that the B & I Line were represented at the inquest and the question of attendance was therefore examined very closely by my Department. As I said to the Deputy, the Department are very concerned to ensure that the standards of safety on all vessels are upheld. Safety standards are reviewed constantly by the National Ferry Safety Committee. That committee meet at least six times each year, their work is ongoing and they are involved in all inquiries.
Mr. Wilson: That matter is being examined. I cannot say now whether the report will be published, but there is no implication whatsoever of lack of monitoring by my Department and my officials to ensure the safety of all vessels and the safety of passengers on all vessels.
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