Thursday, 8 February 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
13. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with regard to the proposed new European Union maritime safety agency; the role such an agency would play; the way in which it would work with the Irish authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3338/01]
Mr. Fahey: The proposed new European maritime safety agency – EMSA – is part of the second package of measures put forward by the European Commission in the wake of the Erica pollution incident off the French coast in December 1999. The first package of measures was proposed by the Commission in March 2000 and since then agreement on various measures has been reached at the Council of Ministers.
The first exchange of views at official level regarding the new agency since the proposal was published in December 2000 took place at a working group meeting in Brussels yesterday. The Commission sees the primary objective of the new agency as ensuring the proper implementation of existing legislation. The agency will aim to ensure efficient and uniform application of the international rules within the EU. It is expected that it will also act as a technical support body to the Community and to member states, providing them with a high level of expertise in this complex area.
On the question of how the new agency will work with the Irish authorities, I understand that, according to the Commission, it is not proposed that the agency will interfere in any way with the legislative powers of national authorities. The Commission considers that the agency should play a major role in organising appropriate training activities on port and flag state-related issues. In this regard, the Commission suggests that harmonising the training of the member states' surveyors will help to ensure a uniform EU maritime safety system.
I am advised that member states at yesterday's meeting were favourably disposed to the objective of the proposed agency. All member states, however, considered that the details of the proposal would need to be thoroughly examined before any conclusions could be reached.
Mr. Bell: It was reported in The Irish Times, regarding the discussion on that subject, that Ireland was one of seven countries which was severely criticised for not applying proper safety measures. Can the Minister say, on the co-ordination of the activities with other countries, seven of which have been criticised by the Commission, when he expects to be able to indicate to the House what standards his Department is supposed to apply to the industry here?
Mr. Fahey: I am not aware of the report to which the Deputy refers but it is fair to say that an accident like that of the Erica off the French coast would be difficult for any country to deal with. Clearly the French coast was completely  devastated by the serious pollution damage caused. We are very much aware of the risk to our coastline from such major accidents. For that reason this year we are proceeding with, and have provided in the Estimates for, an emergency towing vessel to be located on the west coast in order that we can respond immediately to major tankers and other vessels which are in distress and which may be in danger of breaking up on the coast.
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