Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan says the Mary Kate case is not his department leaving the Gaffney family back in limbo once again

Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan says the Mary Kate case is not his department leaving the Gaffney family back in limbo once again

Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan TD has washed his hands of the ‘Mary Kate’ case telling MEP Sean Kelly that it was not the fault of the Marine Survey Office and has knocked the ball back into the court of the Minister for the Marine.

In a letter to the Fine Gael MEP, who had taken the case to the Minister on behalf of CJ Gaffney and his family, Ryan says that there was no legislation in place to protect under 24-metre fishing vessel owners who bought their vessels from abroad. The MSO had no legal obligation to ensure the safety and stability of any fishing vessel being brought into Ireland.

Minister Ryan has directed the Gaffney family to persue the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, as the Minister was advised by EU Commission and current Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevicus to pay the compensation from the EMFF to the Gaffney family.

In the letter he writes, … fishing vessels greater than 24m length which are regulated by the Torremolinos Protocol, to which Ireland is a party, and which is transposed into EU law by means of EU Directive 1997/70, as amended and which is further transposed into Irish national legislation. The next segment is the 15m to 24m length sector; there are no binding International Conventions for such vessels nor are there any EU safety regulations for such vessels. However, Ireland has a comprehensive set of safety regulations for these vessels as set out in the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Fishing Vessels) (15-24 metres) Regulations 2007, Statutory Instrument SI (2007) 640.”

He continued, “The fishing vessel “MFV Mary Kate” at the time when it was first presented for registration in Ireland came within the 15m to 24m sector of the fleet. At that time there was no safety survey or certification scheme for such vessels and there were no regulations for the structure, stability or machinery. The regulations at that time consisted of requirements for life saving appliances and fire-fighting equipment, there were regulations for radio installations and some MARPOL requirements may have applied. However, there were no statutory stability standards and no requirements to comply with international, EU or national standards in this regard. At that time when the “MFV Mary Kate” fishing vessel was registered on the Irish flag it required a tonnage survey carried out by the Marine Survey Office, MSO, of my Department to ascertain its tonnage and engine power. At the time of carrying out the tonnage survey the MSO takes the opportunity to check the compliance of the vessel with the life-saving equipment and fire-fighting arrangements, but there was no survey requirement to do so. Such tonnage surveys are not seaworthiness surveys, as the MSO can only apply the applicable statutory requirements.

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“There were no stability or construction standards applicable to such vessels until a new set of regulations were introduced in 2007. These safety regulations SI (2007) 640 were introduced by my then predecessor to address the safety of fishing vessels in this length category; these regulations had a phase in timeline and required compliance for existing fishing vessels over a number of years from 2007 to 2010 depending on the keel laying date of the vessel. These regulations are comprehensive and require compliance with construction standards and stability standards as well as lifesaving and fire-fighting arrangements and require such fishing vessels to come within a regime of survey and certification. The MSO provided significant information to the fishing sector during the implementation phase, including regional seminars and pre-survey visits to vessels to assist owners in making a decision on whether to proceed with the required survey.  Any existing fishing vessel which was on the Irish flag at the time of the entry into force of these new regulations would be required to comply with the new safety standards as set out in the regulations in accordance with the time-line based on its keel laying date. For the “MFV Mary Kate” this meant that compliance was required in 2009. Therefore, in certain cases when a fishing vessel in this category was first registered before the effective date there were no applicable regulations for stability but that over time the new regulations would apply. In some cases, the MSO would not be able to issue a safety certificate to an existing fishing vessel which came within the scope of the new regulations until it had been brought into compliance and this was the case for the “MFV Mary Kate” which required modifications, including lengthening, to bring it into compliance.”

Minister Ryan then reiterates that the transaction was a commercial transaction and therefore a private legal matter.

He says, “I understand that the Gaffney family purchased this vessel in 2007 and that it was registered in Germany at that time, the purchase of any vessel is a private commercial matter between the buyer and the seller and my Department has no role in such transactions. As explained above when Mr. Gaffney first registered the vessel in Ireland the applicable regulations covered tonnage and some safety issues but not the comprehensive safety regime which would later apply to all fishing vessels in this length category.  It appears that the issue in this case relates to the differing safety standards applicable to fishing vessels in the 15m to 24m length category in EU member states as these are not harmonised at EU level. Therefore, any issues relating to the European aspects and the safety standards applicable in other member states should be addressed to the relevant European Authorities including the European Commission.

The Minister goes on to say that this matter is not a matter for his department and advises Mr Kelly to advise the Gaffney family to take the matter of compensation to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. He finished by saying:

I further wish to advise that any issues relating to fisheries aspects of this case such as fishing boat licensing, quotas or financial matters under the European Fund for Maritime and Fisheries are not within my remit as these are related to the commercial fisheries aspects and fall under the purview of my colleague the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

“I hope that the above may be helpful in explaining the background to fishing vessel safety in Ireland and my functions relating to the safety certification of vessels and also clarifying that I have no function regarding the distribution of exceptional funding under the European Fund for Maritime and Fisheries. Again, I have sympathy for the case as described in your correspondence and with the Gaffney family.”

Reponding to Minister Ryan’s letter CJ Gaffney said, “They are very good at telling you what they can’t do, but not one of them has come back to say what they could do to help me and my family.

“If they put ten minutes of that same time in finding a solution, they could have found a result for my family.”

Both the Minister for the Marine and the Minister for Transport has received letters of support from oppostion TDs and Irish MEPs calling for a solution to put an end to this nightmare for the family, but the government still refuses to act appropriately.

“It’s absolutely shocking and a disgrace that they have ignored all these letters,” says CJ. “We’ve only got 13 MEPs, and 10 of them signed a joint letter that has been thrown to one side.

“We have all this expert evidence to back us up and they also ignore that.”

by Oliver McBride

Brian J McMullin Solicitors
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Ryan washes his hands off ‘Mary Kate’ as Gaffney family left in limbo

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