Harbour Dues and the Polluter Pays Principal

In recent times the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has mandated the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries to  collect the millions of harbour dues that are outstanding. This of course was in the back drop of the financial crisis.

Traditionally, harbour dues were guaranteed to be discharged because the owners could not sell their vessels without paying off the dues. After the PAC  issued their findings, the then Minister Simon Coveney TD, amended the regime with a 2012 Statutory Instrument which allowed the dues to be collected by way of litigation as a simple contract debt.

The issue is of course that of the various heads of charges two are mandatory and are not based on usage.

The first is the waste charge and the second is the water charge. Both of these charges are levied on the basis the vessel has entered the Port and therefore the fixed charge is due. It does not take into account as to whether or not the Skipper actually uses the facilitates of waste or water or not.

The issue is a rather prominent one as the Department has not being chasing up the unpaid invoices prior to the change of law.

The difficulty now is that the European Court of Justice has held that there is a clear and unequivocal principal that not only should we ensure that the polluter pays but also that the polluter has the opportunity to avoid the charge by not polluting.

Accordingly, the current SI setting out the charges is in breach of EU Law.

The Department are ignoring the issue and instead take the view that they should issue demand letters for payment of the dues with the threat of legal proceedings.

By now the Department are well aware of the argument that this office has been making on behalf of Clients over the last 18 months and yet other Clients continues to receive these demands.

Any queries should be directed to Dermot Conway at dermot@conways.ie

Conways Solicitors