I take Deputy Haughey's point regarding the mv Kilkenny. He spoke about dangerous goods and I am glad to be able to tell him that an EC Directive on carriage of dangerous or polluting goods which addresses the problem of inaccuracy of ships' manifests will shortly come into effect. Deputy Haughey was quite right to raise the matter because it is an important point. It is well taken and I would like to think that the problem will be corrected in the not too distant future.
Deputy Barrett mentioned ferry safety. Much was made of that point during Second Stage and in the select committee. Regulations for operation and construction of ferries are regularly reviewed and updated under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation.
Having said that, I wish to inform the House that an organisation has been set up to look after the interests of ferry users. The officials in my Department are aware of the necessity to ensure at all times that ferries travelling from Ireland to Britain or France are safe. Ferries were involved in accidents in the past and I hope any future accidents will be kept to a minimum. I would not like it to go out from this House — I know that Deputy Barrett will agree with me — that in some ways ferries can be a danger to people travelling on the high seas. This is far from the truth. I accept that any ferry disaster is one too many, but ferries are one of the safest means of travel. It is only fair to make that point having regard to the number of people who depend on ferries for their livelihoods. Generally speaking, ferries are a safe means of transport but there are exceptions to the rule and my Department and I keep a very close eye on their operation. As I said, regulations governing the operation and construction of ferries are constantly reviewed and updated to take account of modern technology which is advancing at a very quick pace. I will take on board Deputy Barrett's point; it is a matter about which I am aware.
The Bill will make an important contribution to the procedures for dealing with maritime casualties. It proposes an orderly system for handling the three main phases of a casualty at sea — vessels in distress, salvage operations and, where necessary, the removal or rendering harmless of ensuing wrecks. The Bill will strengthen the role of the Irish Marine Emergency Service and the Marine Survey Office which have been greatly upgraded in recent years. I agree with Deputy Barrett that this is not the type of Bill about which one becomes overemotional or which will make the headlines but it is a fundamentally important Bill in the sense that it will update much of the existing law in this area and bring it into the 21st century.
Commercial salvage operations are often high risk affairs which need careful regulation if the right balance is to be struck between the interests of the State, ship owners, salvors and the environment. The Bill, by giving effect to the international convention on salvage, will strike the balance we all seek to achieve. In particular, important new provisions which will require the interests of coastal communities and the environment to be taken into account during salvage operations represent a new departure in Irish maritime law. It was pointed out during the debate that the present situation in regard to the disposal of wrecks is unsatisfactory. The Bill will place responsibility on owners for the removal or rendering harmless of wrecks and will give public authorities a new role in ensuring that the owners of wrecks live up to their responsibilities. Wrecks of historical interest are also dealt with in the Bill and the Director of the National Museum will have the right of first refusal to any unclaimed wreck around our coast. This improvement will be in the national interest and will secure our heritage in the context of the wrecks which will be taken into the charge of the Director of the National Museum.
Many Deputies showed a particular interest in the section which will enable the Minister to make regulations governing the burial of human remains at sea. As I said on Second Stage, burial at sea is not usual but nevertheless it happens. Therefore, it is important that such burials be regulated on health and safety grounds.
I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. A number of important amendments have been incorporated in the Bill as a result of the helpful suggestions put forward by Deputy Barrett, Deputy Clohessy, Deputy Kavanagh and other. Land owners whose lands might be used during a rescue operation have been given a statutory assurance — this relates to the spirit of Deputy Barrett's amendment — that they will not incur liability for personal injuries or damage during a rescue operation. This is as it should be. As Deputy Barrett pointed out, this addresses the important topical question of land owners' rights. This may be the beginning of a process which will protect the legitimate rights of land owners, rights which they are entitled to have protected.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which undertakes sterling work on a voluntary basis, sought to be exempt from the provision requiring ships to render assistance to vessels in distress. This exemption has been incorporated in the Bill. I am grateful to Deputies for their kind remarks about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution which does such magnificent work. I am confident that that organisation's long tradition of saving lives will continue and that its excellent working relationship with the rescue services of the Department of the Marine and the lifeboat crews will be maintained.
I should not like to overlook the marvellous search and rescue work done by the Air Corps and Naval Service. These organisations provide an exceptional service. The Department of the Marine and the Department of Defence are very much inter-linked with these organisations and I would be failing in my duty if I did not express my deep gratitude to the members of these organisations for the courage displayed by them in rescuing people at sea in the most appalling circumstances.
Finally, I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate on the Bill. I assure the House that the provisions of the Bill will be enforced to the fullest extent possible.