§ 36. Mr. McQuarrie
asked the Secretary of State for Trade what procedures are followed when it is suspected that an illegal oil spillage from a vessel has caused the death of a considerable number of seabirds.
§ Mr. Sproat
Reports of incidents involving marine pollution are received either directly or through a coastal radio station by Her Majesty's Coastguard, which forwards details to the appropriate sections of the Department of Trade, including the marine pollution control unit and local marine offices, as well as to other interested organisations, such as environmental groups, local authorities and the Department of Energy's petroleum engineering division. The information is set out in a standard form covering: source of the report, name of ship (if known) causing or involved in the incident, time, date and position, identity of the substance spilled (if known), quantity of the spill (actual or estimated) and wind and sea conditions.
Ship masters, pilots of military and civil aircraft and other persons who may observe or be involved in the spillage or discharge of oil or other harmful substances in the water surrounding the United Kingdom are under instruction to report any such incidents. Where available, aircraft and vessels may specifically be requested to investigate an incident. When possible, supplementary evidence in the form of photographs or samples is obtained. Incidents or sightings which occur out at sea are reported immediately to the authorities of neighbouring coastal states which may be affected by pollution.
Where possible, the Department of Trade arranges for a ship which has been identified as being involved in an incident to be inspected at its next port of call. During this inspection, any signs that a discharge could have occurred are noted; the oil record book is examined; statements are taken from the master and crew and samples of oil are collected for comparison with the oil from the incident. Other countries co-operate in this procedure.
In the light of the strength of the evidence available, including photographic evidence, the Department then decides whether to prosecute under the terms of the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971 in the case of ships registered in the United Kingdom for offences committed anywhere at sea and, in the case of foreign ships, for offences committed within United Kingdom territorial waters. Where the incident concerns a foreign ship discharging in our surrounding but not in our territorial waters, a report accompanied by the available evidence is sent to its flag state for action.