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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Jan 1992

Vol. 415 No. 1

Merchant Shipping Bill, 1991: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Mar Aire na Mara táim freagrach as slándáil bheatha ar mhuir agus mar sin is chúis áthais dom an Bille seo a mholadh don Dáil. Creidim gur chéim mhór chun tosaigh é chun slándáil a fheabhsú ar uiscí faoi réimeas na hÉireann. Ó ghlac mé dualgais Aire na Mara orm féin tá mé ag brú go dian chun reacht a rith d'fhonn smacht níos fearr a bheith ar shlándáil soithigh phaisinéirí chun laghdú ar uimhir na dtimpistí truamhéalacha agus ar an sléacht ar mhuir, ar aibhneacha agus ar locha.

The main purpose of this Bill is to achieve these aims by updating existing legislation and introducing further safety measures in relation to vessel safety so as to reflect modern realities. Specifically the Bill will: bring the licensing of vessels carrying not more than 12 passengers for reward within the scope of the Merchant Shipping Acts for the first time; update the level of penalties for offences under existing legislation for vessels carrying more than 12 passengers; and enable me to make regulations governing the safety of fishing vessels and pleasure craft.

Initially, I propose to give a short background to the Bill. The Merchant Shipping Acts, which are administered by my Department, apply to vessels which carry more than 12 passengers to sea, or on rivers, canals, lakes or estuaries. Such vessels are required to hold a valid passenger certificate and are subject to annual surveys conducted by the marine surveyors of my Department. These Acts, and rules and regulations made thereunder, lay down detailed requirements in respect of safety on board such vessels. Vessels may be inspected at any time by marine surveyors of my Department. Sixty vessels now hold valid passenger certificates, many of the certificates being valid for the summer months only and for vessel operation in smooth or partially smooth waters. Improved liaison with the Garda and the institution of proceedings against illegal operators have reduced reported cases of overloading. Publicity campaigns advising persons wishing to take trips on vessels to check that such vessels hold valid passenger certificates and comply with the requirements of those certificates have also served to reduce reported irregularities. The major remaining difficulty is the low level of fines being imposed by the courts on the owners or masters of vessels operating illegally which does not prove an adequate financial deterrent to the illegal operator.

Vessels which carry 12 passengers or fewer are outside the scope of the Merchant Shipping Acts but may be licensed by local authorities under the Public Health Acts. Boatmen's licences may also be issued by local authorities under the same legislation. However, there are no statutory requirements laying down safety standards for these vessels and, therefore, there are no criteria by which local authorities can assess applications for licences. The token level of fees and fines under the Public Health Acts and the discretionary nature of the licensing powers have resulted in the legislation being less than effective — and moribund in the case of many local authorities.

In relation to the larger passenger ferries, a review of the safety aspects of ferry transport has been ongoing since 1987 when my predecessor, the present Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Brendan Daly established the National Ferry Safety Committee. The committee is chaired by my Department's chief surveyor and includes representatives from Irish ferry companies. The committee review safety procedures and standards on board Irish registered ferries, consider any measures necessary to improve safety and makes recommendations, as appropriate, to the ferry operators and to myself. Non-Irish registered ferries calling to Irish ports are subject to periodic inspections carried out in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control to which Ireland is a contracting party.

A recent Royal National Lifeboat Institution report indicates that the greatest number of accidents around the Irish coast last year were in the pleasure craft and commercial fishing categories. Hence the need for improved safety precautions in these sectors. In the pleasure craft sector my attention has also been drawn to the hazards posed by jet-skis. Their operators are encroaching on waters used extensively by bathers and children in small craft.

This Bill represents a consolidation and improvement of passenger safety legislation and I believe that the establishment of the Department of the Marine in March 1987 provided a much needed impetus for this development. Prior to the setting up of the Department there has not existed since the foundation of the State a co-ordinated Government policy directed towards the development of marine resources or their protection. This is partly historical but to a large extent reflects the insufficiently high priority accorded to the development of the entire marine resource. With a fragmented administrative structure it is not surprising that the result was a certain lack of focus and of a cohesive approach, with wasteful demarcation overlaps between Government Departments and agencies and unsatisfactory deployment of financial and manpower resources.

With the establishment of the new Department, the administration of all the major sectors of marine industry were brought under a single head and the administration restructured to ensure maximum efficiency. At this remove I think it is true to say that the giving of responsibility for marine affairs to a single Minister has proved a success and met with the approval of marine related industry and the seafaring community.

The use of our seas and coastal waters for boating, sailing and other leisure activities is a source of great joy. We need to develop facilities for pleasure craft, including marinas, if Ireland is to attract its fair share of sailing visitors from overseas and market itself as a centre for major ocean races. However, it saddens me to see the extent to which tragedies occur because of failure to take basic safety precautions. The unpredictability of Irish weather and the vast power of the sea itself make seafaring hazardous, despite advances in vessel design.

As part of their strategy in creating an awareness or consciousness of the importance of safety on our waters, my Department are engaged in the dissemination of information by way of press releases to the media, marine notices, booklets and pamphlets on particular aspects of safety. I have copies of these with me. While I am extremely pleased with the enhanced public awareness generated by campaigns already undertaken, the enhancement of the law in this area is fundamentally more necessary if lives are to be saved. In this connection, the Bill will allow me to make regulations governing the safety of pleasure craft covering, for example, the carriage of life-saving, radio and navigation equipment. The expansion of the Irish fishing industry in recent years has been described as spectacular, and I would not be inclined to disagree with this assessment. While commercial fishing can be a profitable activity it can also be a very hazardous occupation. We should never forget that when we take into account the very substantial increase in exports and the improvement in our GDP and GNP which has been brought about by fishermen who are engaged in this very hazardous occupation. My Department have been involved in preparing educational material relating to the safety and operation of fishing vessels. In Howth some time ago I presented a very important booklet on this matter to the representatives of fishermen. However, as in the case of pleasure craft, I believe that the law in this area needs to be enhanced to ensure as far as possible the protection of the crews of fishing vessels. This Bill will enable me to make regulations governing the safety of fishing vessels and their crews.

The State's commitment to the rescue of persons in distress at sea has been considerably boosted in the past year. Following upon the Government's acceptance of most of the recommendations of the Doherty report on Air-Sea Rescue Services a new marine emergency service was established within my Department last May. The service — Slánú, the Irish Marine Emergency Service — has assumed responsibility for the operational aspects of maritime safety, rescue, shipwreck and sea and coastal pollution. A director and chief of operations have been recruited and arrangements are currently in progress for the integration into the service of the coast radio stations at Valentia and Malin Head, the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Shannon and the cliff and coast rescue stations throughout the country. The Marine Pollution Response Team, to whom I have paid tribute in this House for their handling of recent marine incidents where there was a threat of pollution, also come under the aegis of Slánú.

In July 1991 an interim medium range search and rescue helicopter commenced operations out of Shannon on a 24-hour basis. Earlier this month that helicopter was replaced by one specifically equipped to carry out rescues in conditions of very poor visibility. With effect from last July the Air Corps Dauphin helicopter which had been located at Shannon has been transferred to Finner Camp, County Donegal on a 24-hour response basis.

The Doherty report also recommended the setting up of a Maritime Safety Consultative Committee and working groups covering safety on fishing vessels, pleasure craft and other vessel types to come under the aegis of the committee. The main objective of the committee and their working groups is to keep me aware at all times of the concerns of the maritime community. The membership of the four working groups currently being set up, that is in addition to the National Ferry Safety Committee of which I spoke earlier, comprises maritime industry and interest group representatives.

The role of each working group is to review safety procedures and standards on Irish vessels in its sector; to consider measures necessary to improve safety in these areas and to make recommendations to the Maritime Safety Consultative Committee; to consider legislative or other proposals, e.g., non-statutory codes of practice to improve standards or conditions in the sector; to consider safety matters referred to the working group by the Minister or his officials for observations; to consider complaints, proposals for improvement, etc., made by interest groups or other persons operating in the sector and, where appropriate, to submit them to the Maritime Safety Consultative Committee and to submit an annual report to the committee.

The fishing vessel and pleasure craft working groups will be paying particular attention to the Bill before the House and will advise me, on an ongoing basis, through the Maritime Safety Consultative Committee of the measures to be regulated. This accounts for the Bill providing me with enabling powers to make regulations in relation to fishing vessels and pleasure craft. It is hoped to hold the preliminary meetings of the fishing vessel and pleasure craft working groups within the next few weeks.

I should mention in passing that my Department continue to be exercised by the dangers posed by submarine movements in the fishing grounds around our coast. At my direction, my Department's chief surveyor at a recent meeting of the International Maritime Organisation's General Assembly proposed a resolution on the avoidance by submerged submarines of fishing vessels and their crews. The purpose of the resolution, which was passed unanimously, is twofold: first, to ensure that submarines navigating through areas where vessels are known to fish, use all available means for determining the presence of such vessels and their fishing gear and second, to ensure that a submerged submarine, if information on the presence of a fishing vessel and its fishing gear is available, will avoid that fishing vessel and any fishing gear connected with it.

The International Maritime Organisation are asking their members to bring these recommendations to the attention of submarine commanders and to develop local arrangements to promote safety in areas used by submarines and fishing vessels. I consider that getting this resolution through the General Assembly had very much a plus for this country. By raising this issue at the highest level in the International Maritime Organisation my intention is to focus the attention of the international maritime community on the problem and to stress the need for constant vigilance if a major tragedy is to be avoided.

I should now like to say a few words about the principal provisions of the Bill. Part I deals with the standard provisions of a Bill. Part II deals with vessels carrying more than 12 passengers — they are the vessels for which legislation is in existence — and which are defined as "passenger ships". Section 6 provides that passengers ships shall be surveyed at least once each year. Section 7 provides that this survey shall be carried out by a duly appointed surveyor of ships, and also by a radio surveyor if the ship is required to be provided with a radiotelegraph or radiotelephone installation, who shall provide the owner of the vessel with a declaration of survey, if satisfied that it is in order it do so.

Section 8 provides that the Minister for the Marine, on receipt of the declaration of survey shall issue a passenger ship's certificate to the owner, stating the limits, if any, beyond which the vessel shall not ply and the maximum number of passengers that the vessel shall carry. The certificate shall be subject to such conditions and restrictions as the Minister may impose. A certificate shall remain in force for a maximum period of one year. The Minister may refuse to grant a certificate where the owner has been previously convicted of a safety-related offence.

Section 9 provides that the Minister for the Marine may revoke a certificate in cases where there has been an error in th declaration of survey, where false or misleading information has been given or where the condition of the vessel has changed since its survey. The Minister may revoke or suspend a certificate if its terms have not been complied with.

Section 10 requires the passenger certificate, or a copy thereof, to be displayed in a position in the vessel so that it is both visible and legible to all on board. Section 11 provides that a person shall not make a false or fraudulent declaration of survey or certificate nor alter such declaration or certificate. Section 12 provides that a vessel shall not operate as a passenger ship unless there is a certificate in force in relation to that vessel. Section 13 provides that a vessel shall not operate as a passenge ship without insurance and that the owner shall provide a copy of the certificate of insurance to the Minister for the Marine. The certificate of insurance, or a copy thereof, shall also be clearly displayed on the vessel.

Part III of the Bill deals with vessels carrying not more than 12 passengers for reward — as the House has been told, this is an area which was not covered by adequate legislation — and defined as "passenger boats". Section 14 provides that a vessel shall not be used as a passenger boat unless there is a licence in force in relation to that vessel. Section 15 provides that the Minister for the Marine, on the application of the owner of a vessel, shall grant a passenger boat licence to the owner if an authorised person has inspected the boat not more than two months prior to date of the application and has furnished a report to the Minister of the boat's suitability. The licence shall contain requirements as to the limits, if any, beyond which the vessel shall not ply and the maximum number of persons that the vessel is fit to carry. This is necessary because a number of people, including Members, indicated to me that small boats carry too many people out to islands. The licence shall be subject to such conditions and restrictions as the Minister may impose. The licence shall remain in force for a maximum of two years. The Minister may refuse to grant a licence where the owner has been previously convicted of a safety-related offence.

Section 16 provides that the Minister for the Marine may revoke a licence in cases where there has been an error in the report of inspection of the vessel, where false or misleading information has been given, or where the condition of the vessel has changed since its inspection. The Minister may revoke or suspend a licence if its terms have not been complied with.

Section 17 provides that the master of a passenger boat must produce for inspection by an authorised officer, his licence and-or proof of the boat's compliance with regulations, if any, with regard to insurance cover. This section also requires that the owner's name, licence serial number and maximum number of passengers licensed for carriage be painted on the outside of the vessel above the waterline.

Section 18 provides that the Minister for the Marine may make regulations to ensure the safety of passenger boats, their passengers and crews. The regulations may cover seaworthiness; construction and maintenance of vessel; life-saving, fire-fighting, radio and navigation equipment; insurance cover; crew competence and such other matters including the charging of fees as the Minister consides necessary or expedient. Different provisions may be made in the regulations for different classes of passenger boats.

Part IV contains miscellaneous provisions, the most important of which I wish to mention. Section 19 provides that the Minister for the Marine may make regulations to ensure the safety of fishing vessels and their crews. The regulations may cover seaworthiness; construction and maintenance of vessel; life-saving, fire-fighting, radio and navigation equipment; periodic survey, crew competence and such other matters including the charging of fees as the Minister considers necessary or expedient. Different provisions may be made in the regulations for different classes of fishing vessels.

Section 20 provides that the Minister for the Marine may make regulations to ensure the safety of pleasure craft and their occupants. The regulations may cover seaworthiness; construction and maintenance of vessel; life-saving, fire-fighting, radio and navigation equipment; periodic survey; and such other matters including the charging of fees as the Minister considers necessary or expedient. Different provisions may be made in the regulations for different classes of pleasure craft. Contravention of the provisions of the regulations constitutes an offence.

Section 23 provides that where a master of, or a seaman employed in an Irish-registered vessel or on any vessel while it is in Irish territorial waters engages in conduct which endangers his vessel or any other vessel, structure, equipment, or any person he shall be guilty of an offence. Likewise if his actions are proved to amount to neglect of duty due to being under the influence of alcohol or any drug he shall be guilty of an offence. Section 24 provides that the master of a vessel the subject of a certificate or licence may refuse to permit on board a person under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. The section also provides that it shall be an offence for a member of a vessel's crew to be on duty under the influence of alcohol or any other drug to such an extent that his ability to discharge his duties is impaired. Section 25 provides that an authorised officer may board or stop a vessel, inspect and examine such vessel and documents or records thereon. A person who obstructs an authorised officer in the exercise of his functions shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 27 amends the Merchant Shipping Act, 1947, to provide for the recognition, by order of the Minister for the Marine, of maritime qualifications granted by foreign governments, where the Minister is satisfied that these are adequate qualifications for service on Irish-registered vessels. Section 29 provides that the owner of a vessel who applies to the Minister for the Marine for a licence or certificate shall furnish the Minister with such information as he may reasonably require for the purpose of his functions under the Bill, when enacted. A person who furnishes false or misleading information shall be guilty of an offence and the Minister may refuse to issue a certificate or grant a licence. Section 30 provides for the payment of fees by the owners of vessels for survey, inspection and the issue of certificate or grant of a licence.

Failure to meet the requirements of the Bill, when enacted, or of regulations made thereunder constitutes an offence. The Bill provides for a range of penalties for offences depending on their gravity. Penalties range from a fine not exceeding £200 on summary conviction for failure to produce a passenger boat licence to an authorised officer to a fine not exceeding £50,000 — I may have another look at that — and/or up to two years imprisonment for failure or refusal to comply with a requirement specified in a passenger certificate.

In conclusion, in the preparation of this Bill, my Department have been in touch with a variety of concerned organisations. The National Safety Council see the Bill as complementing their efforts to promote water safety. Bord Fáilte in seeking to attract tourists to this country place special emphasis on our relatively unpolluted waters and our water-based leisure activities. On a personal note, I sold the idea of holidaying in Ireland to some visitors from Wurzburg, a city established by St. Killian from my constituency, and which is the capital of Franconia — Deputy Barnes will know what I am talking about. They visited some islands off the coast. I made arrangements to meet them after their holiday to find out if they had any complaints. When I asked how many passengers were on board the boat taking them to the island, I was told 12, which is exactly the limit for small passenger boats that do not require a licence. The visitors were alert to what was happening and one made sure to count the numbers boarding the vessel because she was conscious of her own safety. Incidently, the pluses far outnumbered the minuses. For them safety is of paramount importance.

The Bill will provide a statutory basis for safety codes of practice for the different water-based activities. It will enable recommendations along the lines made by the west coast search and rescue and action committee in their report, for example the introduction of annual safety equipment surveys for all Irish-registered fishing vessels and the fitting of emergency position-indicating radio beacons in all commercial seagoing vessels and pleasure craft above a certain size, to be given statutory backing.

I believe the Bill, by improving safety standards on passenger vessels and enabling me to introduce regulatory measures for other vessels, will go a long way towards preventing tragedies in Irish waters.

Mar a dúirt mé ar dtús, is minic a bhí brionglóid agam ó tháinig mé isteach sa Roinn seo go mbeadh timpist ag baint le báid bheaga agus nach mbeidh aon dlí againn chun deileáil leis an timpist. Molaim go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair, agus tá mé cinnte go rachaidh sé chun sochair don tír iomlán.

All Members welcome this Bill. It is a good omen that such positive legislation is being introduced at the beginning of this session. I hope the good that will flow from this Bill will be reflected in the other legislation that will be introduced this session.

The Minister has given us a broad ouline of the position at present and how the Bill will improve it. We are all aware of the incredible risks that are taken continuously by vessels whose operators have chosen to ignore the regulations and hope to get by on a wing and a prayer. As the Minister pointed out, only when a dreadful tragedy occurs do we realise the dangers of our waterways. We should never take them for granted. The Bill lays down safety standards and the criteria that must be followed by all passenger vessels. This is to be commended. As an island country we have a glorious opportunity of expanding water-based tourist activities.

The Minister pointed out that the merchant shipping Acts apply to vessels carrying more than 12 passengers. This Bill legislates for vessels carrying 12 or fewer passengers on our rivers, canals, lakes and estuaries, as well as at sea. I wish to highlight the canals. While a tremendous amount has been done for water-based activities on our rivers and lakes, the Minister will agree that our canals offer a tremendous oportunity to see the neglected parts of our countryside. I would like to see greater investment by the relevant Departments in opening up the canals to navigation. If the canals were linked, this would be a wonderful way of expanding the choice of waterways for visitors.

We welcome the fact that marine surveyors from the Department will carry out annual surveys of vessels. There will be tremendous pressure on staff if, as we hope, there is an increase in the number of passenger and fishing vessels. I hope the Minister will guarantee that he will provide additional staff if they are required. We are all aware that monitoring and enforcement are the most important aspects of legislation. It is dangerous to undermine legislation by the failure to monitor and enforce it. We would also like to see adequate training for staff. I note that at present 60 vessels hold valid passenger certificates. I expected there would be more and this leads me to worry that some vessels may be carrying passengers without the required certificate. I note that many certificates are valid for the summer months only and for vessels operating in smooth or partially smooth waters. Should vessels operate in an extended summer season and/or outside smooth waters, I hope the necessary requirement will be built into the legislation.

I commend the Minister and the Department on their publicity campaigns. I know the Minister will agree that a huge amount of advertising and publicity is needed to raise awareness. A once-off attempt, or even two or three attempts, at advertising will not impinge on people's consciousness. Perhaps the Minister could let us know whether there are plans for an intensive publicity campaign to raise awareness of the implications and consequences of this legislation. It is to be hoped that such advertising would not consist merely of public notices at waterways and places of embarkation but would include national advertising. I believe the greatest monitoring, the greatest moral and legal enforcement of the provisions of the legislation would come through an aware public, people who would do their own counting and their own reporting back. It is also important that people realise the legislation ensures there is no obligation on them — indeed, there is every obligation on the person offering the service — to take any risk whatsoever with regard to travelling on water, either to islands off Ireland or within the country. An effective advertising campaign and effective enforcement of the legislation will be of tremendous importance. Again, I ask the Minister to say whether he and his staff have planned such an advertising campaign.

The Minister gave us valuable information in relation to the larger passenger ferries and the review of safety aspects of ferry transport that has been ongoing since 1987, when the Minister's predecessor established the National Ferry Safety Committee. The review will come as a matter of some relief. However, it is essential that the committee and back-up services for the committee receive investment so that they are available to meet fully the demands placed on them. I was reminded of the necessity for the committee last night when watching a news programme which referred to the tragic ferry disaster at Zeebrugge some three or four years ago. Committees for the monitoring of standards were set up as a result of that tragedy and, naturally, they received the co-operation of everyone. However, a monitoring review committee, have learned that even though safety procedures on ferries were built in statutorily after that tragedy and even though the required technology was there, at times when ships entered and departed from ports members of a ship's crew were not available to monitor the findings.

I saw that programme myself last night, it was amazing.

Exactly. It struck me that no matter how much legislation is put in place and no matter how well committees work and carry out reviews, unless and until it is ensured that new procedures are carried through by the operating crews themselves there could be a recurrence of another desperate and dreadful tragedy. Once again I point out that it is important, once the Bill is enacted, to concentrate on measures designed to seek the full co-operation of the public in the enforcement of the legislation and to make sure that the crews and everyone involved in aiding and assisting passengers on leisure craft and crews on fishing craft are fully trained and will carry out their obligations fully and not take short cuts that could lead to tragedy.

I ask the Minister and his staff whether there is in place some procedure to monitor and, if necessary, to enforce the obligations and responsibilities placed on a crew. What discipline can be enforced upon them? Is it written into legislation that when a crew are discovered to be in breach of passenger safety standards then their employer or captain can and will take action to ensure that the crew act fully in accordance with the regulations and their responsibilities.

The Minister rightly pointed out that for as long as the administration and the regulations covering marine safety, regulations, training and so on had a fragmented administrative structure there was a lack of focus, a lack of cohesion, an overlapping between the agencies and an unsatisfactory deployment of financial and manpower resources. I am sure we all welcome the fact that with the establishment of the Department of the Marine and with the ever-increasing expertise and experience of staff in that Department not alone will we see a tremendous improvement in all areas of legislation and safety for which the Minister's Department are responsible but also — and I know that the Minister will make this point very well with regard to the budget — that all available resources will be used in the most efficient way. If savings are made to allow the Department as a whole to operate much more efficiently and effectively, then the money saved on one level should be invested in the total needs and structures of the Department rather than being taken away from the Department. That is a very forceful argument the Minister could put forward, and I am sure will put forward.

I am very glad the Minister made reference to two tragedies that occurred in the hazardous occupation of commercial fishing about which we are all concerned. One matter was the need for a comprehensive air-sea rescue service that would competently and comprehensively cover all areas — east, west and south. In that regard, the recent handling of the pollution response team in response to potential pollution was very welcome. However, some other tragedies, particularly the recent collision and the fate of the m.v. Kilkenny in Dublin Bay, were matters of great concern. The incident of the collision remains of concern to us all until the report is finalised and published. I take this opportunity to again ask the Minister to publish that report. The findings of the review of that incident, as in the case of reviews and reports on other disasters, are so important that the report must be debated fully and openly and the necessary recommendation adopted. We all look forward to the issue of the report and to a public debate on it as early as possible.

Another problem to which the Minister referred which makes fishing an extremely hazardous occupation, is submerged submarines. There have been many traumatic incidents and accidents involving Irish fishermen and the tragic deaths of the Scottish fishermen recently. A Scottish report on that incident was produced and I compliment the Minister, and the Department, on bringing it up at the highest level in the International Maritime Organisation. The Minister should attempt to strengthen the recommendation in the Scottish report so that fishing grounds will be off limits for submarines. There is enough water in the world for submarines to engage in exercises other than in fishing grounds. Unless the Minister ensures that fishing grounds are off limits to submarines the submarine captains will continue to claim that they did not realise that fishing was taking place in the area.

Will the Minister say if the IMO will monitor this problem? Will the IMO make regular reports to the Minister and staff with regard to it? We would like an up-date on that.

I am glad fishing vessels will be covered by the safety and training regulations. I read a report by Mr. A.O. Gannon, the Chief Executive of BIM in May 1991 about the problems of the Irish fishing industry and one of the issues highlighted in it was that fishing vessels are weather dependent and that the working conditions of deck crew can be dangerous. The report suggested the installation of shelter decks on vessels would provide safer and better working conditions for the crew. However, such a solution would add tonnage to the vessel and would have to be compensated for by withdrawing a similar amount of tonnage in the catch. There is much frustration with regard to tonnage and what fishermen have to cope with. While shelter decks are a safety feature they do not improve the vessel for fishing purposes and are an added headache for fishermen. Will the Department look into that problem? There should be some flexibility in relation to tonnage, licences and so on to encourage the provision of shelter decks which are a desirable feature.

I applaud the introduction of legislation to allow the master or crew of any vessel to deal with passengers or crew members under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is very important that the crew and master of a vessel should have the right to refuse entry to people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When we think of the implications of the problems for other passengers this is a very welcome provision.

I am glad the Bill will provide a statutory basis for safety codes of practice for the different water-based activities. Many Deputies are aware of the overlapping demands with regard to water leisure activities, such as water skiing, surfing and swimming. One of the problems with regard to water sports is that there has not been enough direction on designating areas off limits to other water sports. Under the Bill certain areas may be designated for different water activities so that they will not be a danger, for instance, to swimmers and children. The code of practice is urgent.

We support the Bill although we may wish it to be tightened up a little on Committee Stage. With the Minister we will have another look at the fines and penalties under the Bill. There is no timescale with regard to the implementation of its provisions. Has the Minister any idea of the timescale necessary to impress on those involved the implications of the Bill? Will the provisions be phased in? I recognise the dangers of doing that as far as safety is concerned but I wonder will people involved in water leisure activities, or those who wish to become involved, be aware of the implications of the legislation so that they can make improvements where necessary.

In a cry from the heart I tell the Minister we must be concerned about the safety of passengers and crews on boats and we must ensure that piers and embarkation and disembarkation points are in good condition. I use this debate to remind the Minister and his staff and the Minister for Finance of the huge investment needed to keep our piers safe and to restore them following recent storm damage.

I welcome the Bill and the commitment of the Minister and his staff to it. I look forward to the Bill's enactment and enforcement as soon as possible.

I welcome the Bill, particularly the proposal to bring the licensing of vessels carrying fewer than 12 passengers under the Merchant Shipping Acts. I also support the intention to update legislation. The Minister and his Department must be commended for attempting to do this in a practical way. There is a need to update many Acts and make them more relevant in this decade and in the next century. Some of the legislation governing maritime affairs needs to be streamlined and modernised to cater for the rapid development of modern marine activity. It is also necessary to protect the lives of people who travel by sea, river or lake. Travel in small boats is to be brought within the scope of the Merchant Shipping Acts for the first time. This will be a step forward.

There has been increasing interest in marine recreation and various bodies, including the Department of the Marine, have stressed the need for precautions and safety measures. Despite this, lives have unfortunately been lost at sea and in rivers. It is important that regulations be introduced and enforced to protect the public to the greatest possible extent. This legislation is therefore welcomed by my party. We recognise that with the advancement of technology people have more leisure time and there is a greater emphasis on recreation. There is a need to examine legislation and regulations governing such activity. This has been neglected for too long.

Safety at sea requires constant review because by their nature the seas around the coasts are entirely unpredictable. Those who earn their living by harvesting our fishing grounds know the dangers and uncertainties which are part of their job and their way of life. I pay tribute to all those who actively participate in the saving of lives at sea, those fishermen who respond to a Mayday call for help from their colleagues, no matter what nationality, sometimes at great risk to themselves. I pay tribute too the lifeboat crews around the coast who, often in atrocious conditions, will carry out their voluntary duty in attempting to save lives at sea. As recently as last week the Ballycotton boat was at sea for 16 hours. We should put it on the record of this House that their efforts are recognised. The Air Corps rescue service have an excellent record in saving lives. It is opportune to mention the RAF rescue teams who have on numerous occasions made the perilous trip from Wales to participate in rescue missions off our coast in stormy conditions. Despite the downgrading of the base in Wales, rescue operations are to continue for the foreseeable future. Co-operation between the Air Corps and the RAF in regard to rescue missions has been excellent. The development of our own rescue services augurs well for the future.

I also commend the inshore rescue services, beach lifeguards, the Garda subaqua club, the fire brigades and many more who are involved in all aspects of marine activity. All those services will react to emergencies at sea. This Bill would appear to be an attempt to prevent accidents and protect those using the sea. It will be mandatory to implement certain regulations so that the general public will have proper protection when using such facilities. I have no quarrel with that, but I would ask the Minister to clarify certain points.

The Bill sets out as its main purpose, in the interests of safety of life, to bring the licensing of vessels carrying not more than 12 persons within the scope of the Merchant Shipping Acts for the first time. I wholeheartedly welcome this provision. Ferries ply to and fro across the Lee at the Marina in Cork, particularly on the day of a big match or some other major event. Where boats are handled by experienced boatmen and there is no overloading this is quite a legitimate means of travel, but very often unscrupulous individuals will overload and take a risk in crossing this fairly wide expanse of water. If someone were to panic in an overloaded boat there could be a disaster. I have watched this development over a number of years and it is frightening to see the number who will take the risk of travelling in overloaded boats in order to save themselves an extra mile. Boats have frequently been overloaded. There could be great danger if a person were under the influence of alcohol or——

Beaten by Tipperary.

It is a dangerous practice and I welcome anything to control it. Up to now the law has been vague about who should control such activity on the river and the fines which could be imposed were no deterrent. I am sure this type of offence has been happening throughout the country and the risk to life has been great. Any measure to curtail such activity is to be welcomed. The absence of criteria for assessing applications for suitability is a glaring inadequacy in the current legislation. I hope the Minister will state the means he proposes to introduce to assess an applicant.

In Part II the Minister lays down regulations governing passenger ships, that is ships carrying more than 12 passengers. These regulations go some way to ensuring that the safety and seaworthiness of the craft is of paramount importance. I hope this aspect of the Bill is not a pious aspiration. We have seen in the wake of the Zeebrugge disaster that certain ferries at present in operation do not comply with stability requirements.

While the provisions of this Bill are targeted mainly at the small operators we must ensure that companies operating ferry services to and from Britain and the Continent comply with the regulations laid down adhering to Irish and international standards. It is a matter of serious concern that in a recent survey published by the Sunday Tribune it was discovered that ferry companies operating from Irish ports lagged far behind their British and French competitors in the provision of up-to-date life saving equipment. In that survey also attention was drawn to the fact that life rafts aboard Irish Ferries and B & I passenger car ferries met the minimum national and international legal standards, their design being outdated. It should be mandatory on all passenger ferries plying between Britain and the Continent to have fitted on board aircraft-type escape chutes which would allow passengers a speedy escape from a vessel in danger at sea. While the main emphasis of the provisions of this Bill is on small craft, pleasure and fishing boats, it is important to point out that ferries operating from this country be scrutinised to ensure that the best life saving equipment and ship design are deployed in the interests of passenger safety.

I should like to refer now to pleasure craft. I am disappointed with that part of the Bill dealing with them. I would have expected that the Minister would have gone much further than he has in this Bill. There is an ever growing interest in marine recreation leading to a substantial increase in the usage and ownership of small boats. While it must be said the vast majority of boat owners are responsible people, with a great love for the sea and our rivers, treating them with considerable respect, there is need for some type of registration system to be devised whereby boat owners who use their craft strictly for pleasure purposes, not for profit, can be identified if such need occurs. I might point out that I can purchase a cabin cruiser for my private use and deploy it without any restraint in our waters; I do not even need to be competent to do so. I can manoeuvre it in busy off-shore waters where there may be hundreds of people swimming. Indeed I could cause somebody serious injury. Yet, in such circumstances, it would appear there is no way in which I can be identified except through the name of the vessel which can be easily removed. While recognising that the provisions of this Bill are aimed at controlling vessels with a capacity for fewer than 12 people there is a need to legislate for boat owners, yachts and privately-owned craft using our waters on a regular basis. I contend there should be some criteria laid down ensuring that people's competence to use such boats in crowded waterways is clearly ascertained and examined. While recognising that such proposal may meet some resistance it must be said that there is a lacuna in the legislation in that such people can take out such vessels while being totally incompetent to do so. This is something that should be seriously examined. I am not advocating merely a register of people owning boats but rather one drawn up so that people who use such boats be responsible to some authority for their usage and the activities in which they engage in inshore waters and off our beaches. With the growing popularity of yachting marinas and interest in boating there is need to examine all aspects of safety measures governing the usage of our waters.

I was glad to note that the Minister referred also to the growing interest in jet or water skis which have become popular at various seaside resorts and on many of our lakes. While I do not wish in any way to curtail this increasingly popular sport I must point out that if such jet skis are used in crowded areas they can cause serious accident. Any legislative provisions governing safety should embrace all aspects of water activity, particularly those where the public are involved. I am sure the Minister has had representations from many people who use our lakes where such jet skis are being used. In fairness, it must be said they have been a cause of annoyance to many people particularly fishermen, when they find these water skis zooming in on top of them. As I am sure the Minister is aware, this has led to much friction. It may well be the reason for his referring to the matter in the course of his introductory remarks.

Examination of all these aspects and proposals will be of fundamental importance in the future. It is indeed opportune to legislate for such activities now ensuring that the public and boat owners are fully and adequately protected.

I have already paid tribute to the various organisations who engage in the dangerous task of rescue services at sea. It is only proper that those people using boats for pleasure and/or recreational purposes, and indeed for fishing, do not endanger others who may have to come to their rescue and assistance. If such people engage in these activities and endanger others through their incompetence, ignorance or inexperience then a heavy responsibility rests on their shoulders. The proposals I have made constitute a reasonable request without in any way curbing the freedom of the individual wishing to participate in marine activity.

There is need for the introduction of guidelines governing the usage of speed boats, cruisers or water skis in shallow water off our beaches which may endanger bathers or others using those waters for recreation purposes and indeed for fishing. While those aspects of recreation may not come within the scope of the provisions of this Bill I would have to ask why not, since this Bill purports to have people's safety as its primary objective? Perhaps the Minister would consider broadening its provisions ensuring that all related aquatic usage or activity is governed by them, incorporating the points to which I have referred.

Section 20 provides that the Minister may make regulations to ensure the safety of pleasure craft and their occupants covering seaworthiness, construction and maintenance of vessels, life-saving, fire-fighting, radio and navigation equipment and so on. Does that mean there will be some control over all types of pleasure craft since it would appear that the provisions of section 20 (6) do not cover owner usage of a pleasure craft I should like that point clarified. While not wishing to dwell on the question of a private owner of a vessel and his or her responsibility, very often the search for and rescue of pleasure craft which have strayed beyond their limitations places others at risk. Bearing in mind that the lighthouses around our coasts are becoming fully automated we must remember that this will lead to the absence of the hitherto vigilant eyes of those lighthouse keepers. In turn surely this will lead to greater need for protection of those who use their craft for pleasure purposes? I am sure the Taoiseach will agree with me when I say that the loss of lighthouse keepers is a very high price to pay for progress——

Does the Deputy know something we do not?

I mean this seriously, since such lighthouse keepers have had an enormous tradition of service to sea-farers handed down from generation to generation. Their absence will be greatly noted and their services sadly missed by all those who go down to the sea in ships. I must pay tribute to lighthouse keepers who have given such sterling service to boat users, sometimes inexperienced, who venture too far. Indeed it must be recognised that very often such keepers, particularly on our southern and eastern coasts, have kept an ever vigilant watch for people they know, from experience, are or may get into trouble at sea and have saved many a life. Their human touch will be sadly missed by all. It is indeed a high price to pay for automation.

I welcome the provision dealing with the safety of fishing vessels and their crews. One must admire the tenacity and endurance of such crews who very often must confront adverse weather elements in order to harvest the seas around our coast. Very often such crewing skill is an inherited one acquired the hard way by practical experience. Section 19 states that the Minister may require fishing vessels to comply with specific standards of seaworthiness and also with specific standards of construction and maintenance. I would ask the Minister to indicate how he proposes to deal with this particular aspect of the Bill taking into consideration the age and condition of some of our fishing fleet. Will it mean that boats which no longer meet these requirements will be prevented from fishing or will the Minister have a time frame for the modernising and the improvement of these crafts? The Minister will appreciate that we are recognised as having one of the oldest fishing fleets in Europe if not further afield. It would be a source of worry to a number of people who are trying to operate boats out of the various fishing harbours and who may not have the necessary finance or the resources to enable them to improve their boats.

Section 19 (5) provides that the skipper of a fishing vessel is equally responsible and guilty of an offence as the owner if there is a contravention of a regulation under the section. I would have grave reservations regarding an employee being as guilty as the employer. The Minister should examine this point again even though I recognise that the skipper has responsibility for the vessel at sea.

I welcome any measure that will bring crewmen on board our trawlers under the protection of the law. For far too long these seamen have faced unbelievable conditions in trying to make a living. Their colleagues in the United States, Britain, USSR, Japan, Canada, Norway, France, Holland, Poland and even Peru and many other countries enjoyed protection under the international labour legislation but Irish fishermen had no protection. I certainly welcome any measures to be introduced by the Minister to address this situation.

At present there is no requirement for safety measures for the smaller commercial fishing craft except for a few basic rules governing life belts. I am speaking about craft under 40 feet in length and there are now apparently over 2,500 of these at present in existence. There are no regulations governing launches, speed boats, motor cruisers and yachts which use our waters. Also there are no competency certificates for boat owners, unlike on the continent where a competency certificate is needed. There should be some method for examining a person's ability to handle their craft in an emergency. I compliment those organisations and clubs who voluntarily give lessons and training in the handling of boats and yachts and who carefully monitor progress of novice seafarers. The fact remains that there are at present no statutory regulations governing sea-going small craft, and I would ask the Minister to examine closely this area of his responsibility.

Some of the points raised and some of the proposals may be resisted for various reasons. People may have bona fide reasons for not going along with them but I believe it is vitally important that every person using the seas, rivers, lakes or estuaries should be obliged to recognise certain safety standards. It must always be remembered that for everyone who goes to sea, inexperienced or careless, and gets into difficulty there have to be others who will risk their own lives to save them. That is the point I made at the beginning of my contribution. Very often when people get into difficulty at sea other people in various organisations lose their lives in the fight to save them. The point I am trying to emphasise is that anyone who takes a boat out a certain distance should have at least the basic training in handling a boat.

While acknowledging that the Minister is ultimately responsible for any legislation before this House, I request that before Committee Stage consultation takes place with organisations who have a keen interest in this very important matter of safety at sea. I am aware that the Department have been in touch with the appropriate organisations, but I would ask the Minister to seek the views of such organisations as the RNLI, the IFO, the Irish Yacht Association, harbour authorities and local authorities before legislation is finally passed so that all these groups could advise and have some input into legislation which will probably be on the Statute Book for many years to come.

I have no problem with the legislation before us but I would like to have the points outlined above clarified, some of which may need to be amended. For far too long we in this country have accepted the fact that people had a right to do what they pleased when going to sea. At the same time if we are to be a responsible maritime nation we should look at the example of others and see what other nations have done in respect of their commercial and pleasure boats, cabin cruisers, yachts and so forth. It is part and parcel of our lifestyle to take it easy. For years many fishermen in small open boats have gone many miles out to sea perhaps without even a life jacket, which is frightening. Frequently many lives have been lost. If the files of the Department of the Marine were opened, perhaps we could learn lessons from previous incidents involving loss of life. Perhaps some of the legislation is based on those incidents. nevertheless, the IFO, the RNLI and other such organisations should be consulted because they have first hand experience, they understand the sea and what faces people who wish to cater for marine recreation activities which are now a big attraction in this country. As Deputy Barnes said, we can provide attractive facilities for tourists, but unless we have the necessary legislation in place and can enforce it, we are only wasting our time. I welcome the legislation proposed by the Minister and before he concludes perhaps he will clarify some of the points I have raised.

It is interesting that the first matter that the Dáil has come to consider after the recess is a measure which commands such a wide degree of agreement following such an exciting month in the political life of the country. Perhaps it is a case for Dáil recesses being shorter in future and the Members of the Dáil getting back to normal legislative business which might take Members' attention off other matters. I do not propose to break the consensus that is emerging on this legislation which I warmly welcome. It is legislation I have been seeking for some time and which I have raised on Question Time on a number of occasions, the necessity to extend the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act to vessels carrying fewer than 12 passengers. As Deputy Barnes has mentioned, this is a matter of public concern in a maritime constituency where there are many small boats and pleasure craft in the area.

Some time ago Dún Laoghaire Borough Council, of which I am a member, wrote to the Minister for the Marine asking that a change be made to the legislation to incorporate safety measures for small craft. For those reasons I am very glad that this legislation is before us and I am quite anxious that the Bill pass through the Dáil as quickly as possible. Bearing in mind the pressures on parliamentary time I do not propose to make a long speech on this measure. I hope this will facilitate the Minister in concluding Second Stage today, if possible.

This essentially is enabling legislation and provides for the making of regulations covering fishing vessels and pleasure craft. I know this argument has been made here often in relation to enabling legislation but it is a pity that the headings of the regulations have not been spelled out in greater detail in the primary legislation. The difficulty is that the regulations themselves, which will deal with matters such as life jackets, evacuation procedures and the standard and design of vessels, will not be debated in this House. That is a pity. It would be far better if we had before us the draft regulations proposed here. I say this because I am anxious that, if at all possible, the legislation be enacted and in place, along with the regulations, for the coming summer season. This is desirable having regard to the concerns which have been expressed here in relation to improving safety on water.

I am a little apprehensive about the Minister's statement on how he proposes to proceed in making regulations. He mentioned that he will have the matter considered by the Maritime Safety Consultative Committee and that preliminary meetings would be held with the fishing vessel and pleasure craft working groups and so on. I hope I am not reading too much into that but it seems to suggest there may be a delay in introducing regulations once the legislation has been passed. I would be concerned if any such delay would mean that the coming summer season would be missed. While it is a matter of regret that the details of the regulations have not been included in the Bill and they have not been circulated I would emphasise the need, once the Bill has been passed, to introduce the regulations as quickly as possible so that the brionglóid which the Minister talked about earlier will not cause him to have any more sleepless nights and that an accident, which understandably would be a matter of concern for him, will not happen before the regulations are put in place.

There is a number of matters that I want to refer to, some of which have been touched upon. Deputy O'Sullivan touched on the problems associated with the larger passenger vessels, in particular the ferries which serve this country. He pointed out correctly that this legislation deals mainly with small boats. It does however, quite clearly, define "passenger ship" and is intended to cover the larger vessels as well, including I presume the various car ferries which serve this country. In this regard there is an issue which needs to be addressed. I am aware that when I raised this matter at Question Time on a couple of occasions I was criticised for scaremongering. I do not wish to be alarmist but there have been reports during the past two years in relation to the standards of safety which apply on ferries serving this country and those reports are disturbing. Reference has already been made to the tragedy involving the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge. Let us hope that we will never have to cope with such a tragedy in this country, involving any ferry serving this country, but the point has been made before that once the channel tunnel opens we will be the last sealocked member state of the European Community.

We are heavily dependent on sea transport to transport goods and people to and from this country. Car ferries are now very large and carry large numbers of passengers and the potential for a tragedy involving a car ferry, particularly on the Irish Sea, is quite worrying. Reference was made earlier to the problems associated with submarines. The Minister of State confirmed here on a previous occasion that there is a danger that a submarine will collide or engage a passenger vessel. That would be a very serious matter indeed. Therefore we will have to look closely at the question of safety on ferries.

I am concerned about two reports which have appeared in the recent past. The first appeared in the French consumer magazine Que Choisir and it dealt with Irish Ferries. It rated Irish Ferries at the bottom of a list of 33 international ferry companies in relation to safety and the capacity to evacuate passengers. It stated that the survey, which compared the percentage of passengers which can be evacuated using a specified evacuation system, found that the St. Killian and the St. Patrick, both owned by Irish Ferries, could evacuate just 43 per cent and 38 per cent of their passengers respectively. That is an extremely disturbing report. When I raised the matter here at Question Time on 20 June last I was told by the Minister that the article concerned had been passed to the ferry company for their comments and that the report would be discussed at a meeting of the National Ferry Safety Committee. Perhaps the Minister when he comes to reply will let us know what conclusions the National Ferry Safety Committee arrived at in relation to that report and what the observations of the ferry company were. The public are entitled to feel secure with regard to car ferries.

Another disturbing report appeared in the British consumer magazine, Choice. It dealt mainly with six ferry operators, including the B & I, the Cork-Swansea operation and the Isle of Man operation which service this country. It dealt with the methods of evacuation and pointed out, for example, that on some of these vessels passengers would be left with little alternative but to take “a hair-raising climb to safety on rope ladders” should anything occur. It pointed out the desirability of moving to the dry shod method of evacuation. Although, apparently, there are no regulations — or legislation — which requires 100 per cent dry shod evacuation, the international maritime organisations and the United Nations have identified the dry shod method as the safest way of getting people off a vessel which is in difficulty.

Those areas need particular attention, first because of the importance for the passengers concerned but also because of the potential damage which could be done to our tourist industry if the consumer magazines in France and Britain, the biggest source of tourism to this country, state that there is some doubt about the safety of car ferries and methods of evacuation. It is an extremely serious matter which must be dealt with and I should like to know, since I raised the question here last June, what consideration has been given to it and what measures have been taken to improve the level of safety and to assure the travelling public, in this country and abroad, that the ferries operating to and from this country are quite safe.

I am pleased to see that measures are being taken here to introduce regulations for safety in relation to commercial fishing vessels. Deputy Barnes mentioned this already; I think it was at the Torremolinos Convention it was pointed out that a fisherman is twice as likely to die at work as a similar worker on land. We have had a number of tragic examples where doubt has been raised about the levels of safety which apply on commercial fishing vessels. Up to now there has been no legislation governing safety on fishing vessels; they are not covered by the existing Merchant Shipping Act or by the safety at work legislation covering employees in land based work.

We also have a very poor record of safety on fishing vessels. After one of the tragedies a couple of years ago, the president of the Irish Master Mariners' Association stated: "I have the greatest admiration for the bravery of fishermen but I would criticise the use of inexperienced, unqualified people taking out some of these boats." He went on to talk about the problems of safety on fishing vessels. I am glad that it is proposed in this legislation to introduce regulations to cover fishing vessels.

After a tragedy an inquiry is always established and there have now been a number of Department of the Marine inquiries into tragedies involving fishing vessels. I do not recall any of them producing a published report and it is time, in the context of the debate on this Bill, for the Minister to release reports of tragedies so that, while considering this legislation relevant to it, we will be able to see what conclusions were reached by the inquiries. I do not accept the argument, advanced in this House previously, that these inquiries are confidential, that their findings should not be made public or that it would be unfair on the bereaved relatives of people who lost their lives. I am sure that the bereaved relatives would be anxious to know what happened and to hear the conclusions reached. The reports should be published.

I am glad that the Minister in his speech referred to the problem associated with submarines in the Irish Sea. I commend him and his Department for having put forward the resolution at the International Maritime Organisation's general assembly, the effect of which, as I see it, is to caution submarines about their operation and avoiding fishing vessels. Of course the question which must be raised here, particularly in the context of the Irish Sea, is why we should have such a degree of submarine activity in the first place. This country does not have submarines, the Cold War is now over and whatever justification might have been put forward for submarines playing war games under the Irish Sea and Russian, American and British submarines chasing each other — a justification I never accepted — there is now no justification for it. We should be seeking, through the International Maritime Organisation, a requirement that no submarine would operate under the Irish Sea; if submarines have occasion to travel through the Irish Sea they should do so on the surface because of their potential danger. There have been cases where fishing nets became entangled and trawlers were dragged for a considerable length. We must also bear in mind a recent "Today Tonight" programme by Mr. Pat Butler which showed quite clearly that, in addition to the number of submarines which operate in the Irish Sea, there is also a problem relating to the command of those submarines. Former commanders of submarines were interviewed and they talked about the dangers of the submarine commander, isolated under the water for prolonged periods, the degree of disorientation which occurs and the potential there is for, quite literally, a commander to go slightly over the top and to do something rash. We must bear in mind that these submarines are for the most part nuclear powered and the potential danger is enormous. We should be flexing our muscles somewhat more in saying that we do not want any submarines operating under the Irish Sea. If they have occasion to travel to and from Holy Loch they should be required to travel on the surface. I mentioned earlier the need for the results of inquiries to be published, in particular the results of inquiries into tragedies involving fishermen. There is now an inquiry being conducted into the collision involving the mv Kilkenny and perhaps this would be a good time for the Minister to bring us up-to-date in relation to it. He should let us know when we can expect a conclusion because a number of questions have been raised in relation to the collision. Why did it happen? What exactly happened? Why did it take so long, for example, to make contact with the Dún Laoghaire lifeboat? I understand that there was a gap of about one hour. There has been much speculation about what happened in relation to that collision and we should have the results of the inquiry.

The final point I wish to make relates to enforcement. It is one thing to have legislation on the Statute Book — I am glad that this legislation has been brought forward — but attention will have to be given to its enforcement. There have been difficulties in enforcing the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act. I have with me a press cutting from the summer of 1989 which relates mainly to incidents which occurred off the Kerry coast. It quotes a Department of the Marine spokesman as saying that it was difficult to catch boatmen in the act as manpower was thinly stretched and walkie-talkie radios were being used to avoid Garda patrols. While I am glad we are putting legislation in place I would be somewhat concerned if the necessary resources were not also put in place to enable the legislation to be enforced. There is no point in having legislation which is not enforced. Some attention will have to be given to this point.

I should like to join with Deputy O'Sullivan, and the other speakers, in paying tribute to the people who risk their lives to save people at sea and, in particular, the lifeboat institute who carry out very admirable work. On an occasion when we are dealing with the issue of safety at sea it is appropriate that we pay tribute to those who risk their lives and devote so much of their time to helping people in distress at sea and trying to save the lives of others.

I am very glad the Bill is before us and I compliment the Minister on bringing it forward. While there are some points of detail on which I will seek amendment on Committee Stage we should give this Bill as quick a passage as possible through this House and encourage the Minister to introduce regulations and have them in place for the coming season.

I thank the Deputies for the welcome they have given the Bill and for the detailed examination they made of it. This was obvious from the points seriatim which were made by the Deputies in their contributions.

I thank Deputy Barnes for highlighting the importance of the canals in connection with the development of tourism and pleasure boating. It is important that we should be able to guarantee the safety of our tourists when using our rivers, lakes, canals and the sea on the invitation of Bord Fáilte and people in the tourist industry. Deputies Barnes and Gilmore said there would be pressure on staff. I wish to tell the House that a programme of recruitment is in place at present to carry out all the functions of the marine survey office of my Department. Deputies who are sharp of eye will have seen advertisements in the newspapers recently. Applications are being processed at present by the Civil Service Commission. Deputy Barnes referred to the three month licences and asked about an extension of them. A three month licence is issued simply to cover the period requested by those who operate for the three months of the summer. From my time in the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications, I know that Bord Fáilte were stressing an extension during the two shoulder periods, spring and autumn, and no doubt we will be able to accommodate any such development so far as licences are concerned.

Deputy Barnes referred to the necessity for national advertising. I would agree with what the Daputy said up to a point. I mentioned that we have had a very bright, successful and informative publishing exercise with regard to safety which will take account of all that is necessary. I fully agree with the Deputy about the importance of an aware public. I could not help observing that there was no journalist in the press gallery at the time the Deputy was speaking. They might have been able to help us a little in terms of free advertising of this legislation.

I saw the programme on television last night on the Zeebrugge disaster to which the Deputy referred. The point made was that despite the fact that the apparatus was on board the ferry, which was examined and monitored by people to see whether the Zeebrugge recommendations were being put into effect, there was nobody watching it. Apparently there was nothing wrong with the procedure — the bow had been properly closed off and so on. However, as the person who carried out the examination pointed out, despite the fact that the apparatus was there and someone was supposed to be watching it, there was noone there.

With regard to the accident involving the m.v. Kilkenny, as the House knows this is adequately covered by legislation. Reference was made by Deputy Barnes, and the other two Deputies, to the report. The House can rest assured that no effort will be spared in establishing the cause of the accident which led to this tragic loss of life. The main purpose of the preliminary inquiry was to find out what went wrong and to prevent such accidents happening in the future. There has been an established procedure with regard to reports on such matters for such time. I am studying ways to change the procedure, subject to any legal constraints there may be, so that the maximum amount of information will be made available to the House and the families concerned. We want to establish what went wrong and see to it that it does not happen in the future.

All the Deputies referred to the incidents involving submarines. The first of those happenings took place in the Irish Sea a few years ago. Deputy Gilmore stole my lines in this regard when he said, the worldwide power play has changed. I agree with Deputy Gilmore that there is not the same concern with regard to the plying of submarines, one superpower watching the other, in the Irish Sea and along the north east of Ireland.

As the House knows, there was a very important base in Scotland and a good deal of the traffic into and out of that base and of submarines watching the goings on in an out of that base is, thankfully, no longer necessary because of developments towards world peace.

The Deputy also welcomed the provisions with regard to drink and drugs. I have seen a hazardous incident in that regard on one of our waterways comparatively recently, and we are absolutely convinced that it is necessary to include this measure in the legislation. The Deputy mentioned the IMO and the resolution we got through at the last General Assembly. The result of that will be careful monitoring, initiated, as far as we are concerned, by my Department, with the IMO. There will be no undue delay in bringing in the legislation and, as I have mentioned already, provision is being made for the recruitment of surveyors.

Deputy O'Sullivan rightly spoke about our location and the unpredictability of the seas around our coast. I am sure the House would agree that the south, southwest and west where the Atlantic asserts itself so frequently, apart from being one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, is also the place of greatest hazard. We all know of major damage to ships which was coped with adequately in that area.

I join with Deputy O'Sullivan and other Deputies who paid tribute to the fishermen who, as a result of Mayday calls, go to the aid of ships and sailors in distress. I am speaking of the help given by fishermen, lifeboats, the Air Corps and particularly, as Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned, the Royal Air Force from Wales who have helped over the years. I take this opportunity of endorsing the Deputy's remarks. Their help is very much appreciated at departmental and Government level. I would also point out to the House that we are now in a position to reciprocate somewhat because of the putting in place of Slánú.

The Deputy emphasised his welcome for the law applying to the 12 and under passenger boats. He instanced the River Lee in Cork where huge crowds use boats and the danger of such boats being overloaded. Last Monday we got a conviction in the courts for illegal traffic on the River Lee, and the Deputy will probably read of that in the paper before very long. Our legislation will cover that whole area. If the advertising and the national information service are adequate, the people who use and own those boats will know exactly what are their obligations under the law.

The Deputy said he is worried about the quality of the liferafts on ferries. We ensure that the international obligations are fully met by the ferries. There are problems with ferries that are not up-to-date. However, what we regard as very important is that the international regulations should be adhered to and, through the various committees I have mentioned, we will see to it that that is so. There is a problem with regard to pleasure craft, the different sizes of pleasure craft and jet-skiing, and these matters will be covered in the Bill.

The question of enabling regulations was raised by Deputy Gilmore and others. There is an established practice for dealing with enabling legislation which will give Members of this House an opportunity to take action if they feel that is necessary. There will be no delay with regard to the legislation. Deputy Gilmore mentioned the m.v. Kilkenny collision. I assure the House, the companies involved and the unfortunate families of the three men who were lost, that information will be made available, subject to all legal structures, as quickly and as fully as possible. At present my Department officials and I are considering a change in that system.

Deputy Gilmore raised the matter of consumer magazine surveys. I have already made the point that the Irish ferries meet the IMO requirements in full. We are happy with that, and we are assiduous in seeing that that is so. Older ferries, of course, cannot be put off the seas and cannot be modified to take the up-to-date equipment, but we must satisfy the IMO requirements and we do so. The NFSC have taken into consideration the reports referred to by Deputy Gilmore and we are satisfied with the Irish standards in this area. The enabling measures I mentioned already will be introduced by way of statutory instrument.

As the House will appreciate, it is important that all the interest groups be consulted so that if they have suggestions to make we may be able to take cognisance of them in making the regulations. We have already had wide and varied consultations when the Bill was being drawn up and I am sure that on Committee and other Stages, we will also be able to get insights which will be helpful. I have already given an assurance that there will be no unnecessary delays in introducing the measures.

I have outlined what has happened with regard to the founding of Slánú — the Irish Marine Emergency Service — and I think the House appreciates, and the Members who took part in the debate showed their appreciation of this major development in safety for life at sea. There has been a very serious level of investment in helicopters. As I mentioned in my opening speech, the director and chief of operations have been recruited and are working in the new service.

Tá mé buíoch da na Teachtaí a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht. Mar a dúirt mé níos luaithe, an brionglóid is measa a bhíodh agam ná go mbeadh timpist againn ar muir sula mbeadh an dlí seo rite chun deileáil leis.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday, subject to agreement between the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 4 February 1992.