I move amendment No. 7:
In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"(c) compliance with international safety requirements and regulations under international agreements and conventions, and with best practice in safety measures currently in use.".
I should like to have the Minister's views on this amendment. Much interest was generated in the subject of safety at sea when the Zeebrugge disaster occurred, when there was a hard look taken at safety standards on our passenger ferries.
As Deputy Gilmore has already remarked, some commentators did touch on the safety standards of our passenger ferries and how they complied with international safety standards. It was felt by most observers, commentators and experts that our ferries did not fare very well when it came to safety standards. Nonetheless, I have to say that surveys undertaken showed that our ferries complied with the minimum standards. However, we should strive to do a lot better than merely adhere to minimum standards of safety on our ferries which will become even more important in the future. We have seen the comments of various experts on shipbuilding, surveying and ferry operations to the effect that some ferry designs at present are completely outdated and should be considerably revised.
I will refer briefly to some reports I have read and studied over a period of time. One such survey conducted after the Zeebrugge disaster, showed that life rafts on board Irish ferries and B & I passenger-car ferries meet the minimum national and international legal safety standards but their design is outdated; I do not know whether ferry companies intend carrying out major improvements on their ferries in the future.
My reason for tabling this amendment was the firm belief that we should strive for the best safety measures to be incorporated into any ferry service for which the Minister and his Department are responsible.
I will refer to the type of escape chutes installed on continental ferries, similar to those installed on aircraft so that, in the event of an emergency occurring at sea, they can be deployed very quickly — within a matter of seconds — when a ship is not listing. For example, if the type of ferry being used at present is involved in a collision with another vessel, within 30 seconds, there is the frightening prospect that it can capsize and list in such a way that the life rafts and lifeboats on board cannot be launched. That is the frightening prospect we must consider at all times. Bearing in mind the volume of passengers using ferry services to and from Britain and the Continent we should, if necessary, legislate to ensure that the best safety standards obtain on all our ferries. Indeed, I contend that aircraft-type escape chutes should be mandatory on any ferry with a large complement of passengers.
I am very disappointed to read that Irish Ferries fall far behind the safety standards of their British, French and continental counterparts. While realising that the emphasis within the provisions of this Bill is on small boats, perhaps the position vis-á-vis ferries was overlooked inadvertently. For example, should we not legislate to change our overall outlook with regard to safety on board passenger ferries? I travel fairly frequently on the ferry from Cork to Swansea and, nearly always, the passengers have a certain sense of safety, because there is a good crew, and the requisite appliances are installed but, as happened in the case of the Zeebrugge disaster, within a matter of minutes, one can be faced with an emergency or disaster. Therefore, unless there is available proper modern safety equipment so that people can be taken off a ship at sea within minutes, we could have a recurrence of that tragedy.
I await the Minister's remarks in regard to this amendment because it would appear that we apply minimum standards on our ferries. In certain circumstances minimum standards may be adequate but, judging by the reports and surveys undertaken by various independent bodies, it would appear that minimum standards are no longer sufficient and are in need of being improved dramatically. Perhaps the Minister would examine this aspect, ascertaining whether he could devise better standards of safety for our ferry services. If he maintains that he is satisfied with the standards obtaining, I would have to take issue with him because independent marine surveyors and others have indicated that such is not the case.