HL Deb 02 November 1995 vol 566 cc1498-9

3.11 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the cause of the oil pollution incident along the coast of Yorkshire at the end of September, which killed or injured at least 1,500 sea birds, has yet been discovered.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, no. Samples of oiled feathers were sent for analysis but there is insufficient information to identify the polluter.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. I extend good wishes to him as this is the first occasion on which he is replying to Questions for the Government. I am sure that there will be many future occasions. Since the Marine Pollution Control Unit is reported to have taken samples from the slick, what progress is being made with the method known as fingerprinting, introduced some years ago, whereby an individual vessel's cargo of oil, and its oily wastes, can be identified?

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind words.

As he said, fingerprinting can identify the area of the world from where the crude oil comes. The Marine Pollution Control Unit and the European Union are carrying out a project to compile a database at the Institute of Offshore Engineering at Heriot-Watt University.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, since there is a suspicion that on this occasion the pollution was caused by deliberate discharge, is the Minister satisfied that the port facilities available to ships wishing to discharge oil are satisfactory? Have the Government considered including the cost of discharge in other port fees so that there is less incentive for ships to discharge at sea?

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, regarding port waste facilities, consultation is being carried out between the ports, shipping and waste industries as well as with representatives of environmental concerns on how best to reduce waste discharges from ships. We hope to announce a decision shortly.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, perhaps I may echo the good wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, to the Minister.

Is the Minister aware that out of 139 illegal discharges around Britain's coasts over a period of four months up to September of this year, only three ships were detected? Does the Minister agree, therefore, that some urgent action, preferably through the International Maritime Organisation, is required, first, to enable us to designate these particularly sensitive areas; secondly, to engage in rather better and more effective aerial surveillance; thirdly, to ensure that there is a better means of identifying the ships in question, including numbering, the identification of the owners of cargo who could have an effect in this regard and the involvement of insurers, which is also required?

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I shall try to answer all the noble Lord's questions. Aerial surveillance has been increased by 25 per cent. following the Donaldson Report. There has also been more aerial surveillance at night when most of the incidents occur. We are looking at the possibility of transponders being used. However, that is another area where full international co-operation is required and that all takes time.

Successful prosecutions depend upon securing good evidence; and that is what we hope to obtain.