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.