GOVERNMENT ministers have been accused of paying lip-service to maritime safety and the protection of emergency service personnel by failing to ratify a landmark fishing agreement or even attend a major United Nations marine safety conference.
Leading Irish marine lawyer, Michael Kingston, warned it was “incredibly embarrassing” that Ireland has yet to ratify the Cape Town Agreement on marine safety – with Transport Minister Shane Ross having already indicated he will not attend a major United Nations marine safety conference in Spain next October.
Mr Kingston, working on the conference organising committee with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), said the agreement, if enacted, will help protect members of Ireland’s emergency services including the Irish Coast Guard, RNLI and even Defence Forces by having strict protocols for safety standards of international vessels.
While major European maritime nations such as Germany, Spain, Belgium, France, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway have all ratified the Cape Town Agreement on fishing industry safety, Ireland has signed a 1993 Protocol but has consistently failed to ratify the agreement itself.
The agreement aims to strictly enforce safety levels for international vessels.
Ireland ranks alongside Croatia, Bulgaria and Lithuania in having failed to ratify the agreement.
Mr Kingston – whose father died in the Betelgeuse tragedy in Whiddy Island in west Cork 40 years ago – has become a fearless campaigner for maritime safety.
It is believed the final fatal explosion would have been prevented if the Betelgeuse was carrying an inert gas system.
This had been agreed in the SOLAS 1974 Convention but Ireland had failed to ratify it.
Mr Kingston said: “You would think that the loss of 50 lives unnecessarily was enough of a lesson for Ireland’s Government. They should support the regulations agreed at the IMO and by the hard work of Ireland’s delegations there and ratify them straight away,”
“Instead (Transport) Minister Shane Ross thinks he can respond with such discourtesy to the Secretary General of the IMO’s request without consulting his department officials. Marine Minister Michael Creed, also requested to attend, has thus far failed to respond to the Secretary General’s request for Ireland’s support.”
Mr Kingston said that the Cape Town Agreement not only serves to protect the lives of fishing industry workers but, by ensuring international vessels operate to higher standards, also protect emergency services personnel by effectively reducing the amount of call-outs they face.
A major UN conference on marine safety takes place in Torremolinos in Spain from October 21-23 – but Ireland has already confirmed that Mr Ross will not be attending.
In documentation seen by the Irish Independent, the Department of Transport has indicated that Mr Ross “will be unable to attend…and he sends his sincere regrets and best wishes.”
Mr Kingston said that, as a proud Irishman, he finds the Government position on marine safety to be “embarrassing.”
“There is no reference to the issue in question, no reference to Ireland’s work or intentions and no confirmation or otherwise if Ireland will even send a delegation (to Spain),” he said.
“As an Irishman I find this embarrassing, and I will do what I can to reverse it and notify Ireland’s hard working department officials who are at the IMO this week for the 101st Maritime Safety Committee meeting of the IMO. But I truly believe that the importance of this convention is not understood by our Government ministers.”
“It comes at a time when Ireland are investigating a tragic accident to the West of Ireland when four members of the Irish Coast Guard went to the rescue of a fishing vessel’s employee outside Irish jurisdiction with a minor injury.”
“They died which may possibly have been unnecessary if the regulatory regime had different requirements for fishing vessels in international waters.”
“Certainly, it highlights the benefit of an international regime. But there seems to be no understanding of this,” he said.
Mr Kingston is also campaigning for the enactment of corporate manslaughter legislation to protect Irish workers.
He warned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President Michael D Higgins to “stop their rhetoric” and deliver Hillsborough-style justice for the families of 50 people who died in the 1979 Whiddy Island disaster when the French-owned tanker Betelgeuse exploded while unloading its oil cargo on January 8 1979, and to urgently prioritise the ratification of these outstanding maritime safety conventions.
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