Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Bill, 1993: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 8, line 13, after "thinks fit" to insert "and who, in the opinion of the Minister, are suitably qualified".

I understand from my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, who took the Bill on Committee Stage, that a number of Deputies expressed concern that authorised officers may be adequately qualified to perform the functions that they may be required to perform and that in the circumstances it would not be appropriate to specify qualifications or experience because in selecting the person or persons one would have to take into account the function to be performed. Accordingly, I propose to include the words "suitably qualified" in the section to meet the reasonable views expressed by various Deputies at the Select Committee.

I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of my party to wish the Minister of State, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, who took the Bill on Committee Stage, a speedy recovery. I was sorry to hear of his illness and I ask the Minister to pass on our good wishes to him.

I would like to be associated with those remarks.

I am sure we would all like to be associated with them.

As the Minister said, concern was expressed on Committee Stage at the fact that even though extensive powers were being given to authorised officers, it was not specified in the legislation what qualifications these officers should have. It is only reasonable that we give some indication that an authorised officer should be properly qualified. For this reason the Minister's amendment is reasonable in the sense that he is indicating clearly that the person selected by him will be suitably qualified to perform the task he or she will be asked to perform. I have therefore no objection to the suggestion that we amend the legislation to insert the words "and who, in the opinion of the Minister, are suitably qualified". This will strengthen the legislation and overcome the fears expressed on Committee Stage. I presume that this legislation will remain in place for many years to come and that Minister will come and go. It is important therefore that we indicate clearly in legislation that an authorised officer who will be given extensive powers should be suitably qualified. I support the amendment.

I share the views expressed by Deputy Barrett. Given that these incidents occur almost instantaneously, it is important that a properly qualified individual would handle the matter.

I am grateful to the Deputies opposite who have reiterated the views expressed on Committee Stage. When the President signs the Bill into law, as Deputy Barrett said, it will be set down in stone until such time somebody else proposes an alternative to this amendment.

I thank Deputy Barrett for his kind remarks about the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine. I had intended to reserve my remarks until the Bill had completed its passage through the House. However, I deeply appreciate the remarks made by Deputy Barrett and Deputy Clohessy. Our hearts go out to the Minister of State, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, who finds himself in difficult circumstances at this time. He has a serious illness and, as I said, our hearts go out to him and to his family. The full services of the Department of the Marine and its officials are at his disposal and at the disposal of his family. I will be in constant touch with his dear wife and family at all times. As I said, I am deeply grateful to the Deputies for their remarks. In circumstances such as this ranks properly close. I am also grateful to the Chair for his remarks.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 2.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 9, to delete lines 29 to 35 and substitute the following:

"(4)(a) The owner of a vessel in distress shall, subject to paragraph (b), be liable to pay to the Minister the expenses, including the expenses of hire or use of any vehicle, vessel or aircraft, of or incidental to any action taken by an authorised officer for the purposes of saving the vessel or the cargo or apparel of the vessel in pursuance of this Act and those expenses shall, without prejudice to any other remedy, be recoverable in the same manner as salvage is recoverable.

(b) Where the Minister considers it appropriate in exceptional circumstances, the Minister may waive the whole or any part of the liability of the owner of a vessel concerned to pay expenses to which paragraph (a) relates.".

I have considered the representations made on the question of whether we should charge for rescue services. While I am satisfied that in many instances charges could be justified, it would not be appropriate in some instances. Arising from the consultations between myself and the Minister of State, I propose in this amendment to remove the reference to shipwrecked persons. Accordingly, there will be no charge for rescuing people from a vessel in distress. Again, this meets the views expressed on Committee Stage. I consider, however, that there should be a charge when costs are incurred in saving a vessel, its cargo or apparel. I further propose that in exceptional circumstances — for example, where personal hardship would be caused if a charge was to be imposed — such a charge may be waived. This is reasonable in all the circumstances.

I never understood the meaning of the word "apparel" in section 7 (4) (b). I went to the trouble of finding out from my knowledgeable officials, who tell me that it includes items such as winches, ropes, anchors and other such equipment.

I am pleased that the Minister has tabled this amendment to meet the suggestions made on Committee Stage. It is only reasonable that a person who has to be rescued at sea should not have to pay a charge. It would be a sad day if they were asked to do so. However, it is reasonable to impose a charge where a vessel is involved. While I appreciate that this is a difficult matter, given that we are dealing with ships under different flags from different parts of the world, we should consider the requirements imposed on the owner of a vehicle to have third party motor insurance.

There are provisions in this legislation in regard to paying salvors and recovering expenses, but there is an assumption that the owners of vessels have the resources to pay the potential costs. With the co-operation of the European Union, and other international organisations, it should be possible for us to insist that a certain minimum liability cover be carried by each vessel plying our seas, given the horrific liabilities that could be faced in the event of an accident. Vessels plying the seas with no cover for liability often have minimum salvage value in the event of a serious accident and I do not see why we should not have a guarantee that all potential liability is insured as part and parcel of the authorisation to use the seas.

I thank the Deputy for his views and I will certainly have them examined. It seems appropriate that the laws of the sea should insist that minimum liability insurance cover be carried by vessels at sea. I understand it may be necessary to have some form of liability insurance but I do not have the details to hand. I will communicate to the Deputy any information I glean in regard to the matter. I do not have a magic wand, but if the circumstances are as outlined by the Deputy I will take some action which, even if only begun during my Ministry, could be concluded by my successor.

Deputy Barrett and other Deputies referred to the removal of the reference to shipwrecked persons. They said it should be enshrined in the Bill, and that is what has been done. In the circumstances I recommend that the amendment be accepted as proposed.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 9 to delete lines 36 to 38 and substitute the following:

"(5) This section shall not apply—

(a) to a member of the Defence Forces or to any vehicle, vessel or aircraft of, or under the control of, the Defence Forces, or

(b) to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution or to any vehicle or vessel of, or under the control of, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.".

Because it is less confrontational, the new committee system facilitates the introduction of more amendments than the previous system. That is one of its advantages. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and Deputies opposite, made the convincing case that this provision should not apply to the RNLI or to the Defence Forces and it is for that reason that I propose this amendment.

This is a very sensible amendment. Deputy Kavanagh raised this matter. Also, I was aware that the RNLI was concerned that their special position was not recognised in this legislation. In view of the excellent voluntary work it does. I am delighted to have the opportunity of singling it out for special mention and to recognise its unique position and the marvellous work it does. Recognising it in this legislation is one way of expressing our deep appreciation of it special role not alone here but in other parts of the world. It is with great pleasure that we accept this amendment and pay a special tribute to the RNLI.

I would also like to be associated with those remarks because all countries owe an enormous amount to that organisation. I am extremely pleased we are recognising in this Bill the wonderful work it does.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 4 is in the name of Deputy Barrett. Amendment No. 5 is an alternative. Is it agreed that we take amendments Nos. 4 and 5 together? Agreed.

I move amenmdent No. 4:

In page 11, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

"(3) Where any damage is sustained by any person or any cargo or articles of a vessel the owner or occupier of the land to which this section applies shall not be held liable for any such damage.".

I tabled this amendment on Committee Stage to highlight an ongoing problem for occupiers and owners of land because of their responsibilities relating to people crossing their land. Special provision is made in this legislation relating to persons crossing land in certain circumstances. This is acceptable. It is highly desirable that there should be the power to pass over adjoining lands when helping vessels in distress, but it is unreasonable that the owners of such lands should be liable in the event of such persons being injured while passing over the lands.

It is time the laws in respect of occupiers of lands were changed. My party published a Private Members' Bill covering the wider issue and, unfortunately, the Bill was voted down on the basis that Government legislation would be introduced. That Bill was published on 27 April last, seven months ago, and we have not heard anything since. An acceptance of the spirit of my amendment would at least be a beginning by the Government to recognise that it is unreasonable to expect farmers and owners of land to carry liability in respect of injuries suffered by persons crossing their lands for the purpose of helping vessels in distress. If that spirit was extended to other areas of our law I am sure the tourist industry could be helped, particularly in the case of people passing over land — for example, members of gun clubs, hunters, anglers and so on. The Minister in his professional capacity as barrister would have encountered this problem on many occasions.

It is wrong that persons passing over land — in many cases without the authority of the owner — could sue the owner or the occupier of such land in respect of injuries suffered when the landowner or occupier might not be responsible. In this legislation the Minister has begun the process of accepting that it is unreasonable to expect the landowner or occupier to carry a liability in respect of people who may cross their lands to assist vessels in distress.

I am aware the Minister had some difficulty with the wording of my amendment. I read the amendment he tabled in lieu of my amendment and I do not object to the proposed changes which were made to ensure that liability will lie with any owner or occupier who maliciously damages property or cargo rescued from a vessel in distress. I consider that is reasonable. I would hope such a position would not arise, but all eventualities must be covered when introducing new legislation. I thank the Minister for accepting the spirit of my amendment. I hope his colleagues in Government will follow his example and introduce new legislation to deal with this ongoing problem for occupiers and owners of land in respect of liability for persons passing over their land.

I am also concerned about the points raised by Deputy Barrett. Rural people are concerned about their liability in respect of people passing over lands — farmland, landowners' property of local authority lands. Legislation is urgently needed to address this problem. Insurance companies have pressed landowners to increase their public liability cover, which is very expensive. The Minister has given some guarantee in this regard in respect of damage caused in the case of salvaging vessels on the shoreline. Legislation in other areas should be introduced to cover owners or occupiers' liability in the near future. During the debate on the Private Members Bill on owners and occupiers' liability introduced by Fine Gael, I pointed out that visitors to my part of the country were stopped from entering an archaeological site. This matter must be addressed urgently. Legislation has been promised in this regard and I hope it will be introduced shortly.

There is a deep fear among landowners that they may be held responsible for any damage caused in salvage operations. It would be difficult to track down the owners of vessels registered in South America and other distant places. The Minister is aware that there are wrecks off the south coastline. The owners of a vessel have not been traced in respect of an incident that took place 15 to 20 years ago. I would be concerned that the landowners be covered in salvage operations.

I am grateful to Deputy Barrett for tabling his amendment. Effectively, his amendment proposes changing not only the law but an attitude to a problem which continues to confound both legislators and landowners. This might be called the principle of the thin edge of the wedge. Landowners are entitled to certainty as far as the legitimate crossing of their land is concerned. As a walker in the Sneem area of Kerry I never encountered any difficulty getting permission to walk the hills and hillocks in that beautiful part of the country. The landowners are generous in allowing people who have no entitlement, leave or licence to walk over their lands. Access to their lands is gained through their goodwill and there has never been any difficulty in that regard.

Deputy Barrett is right in saying that the law should cover this area, and I am sure it will be addressed by the Government and the Minister responsible in due course. There should be certainty in the law in respect of the landowner. It is traditional here that people can walk the length and breadth of their land without let or hindrance. I understand people's concern in respect of their liability in regard to others crossing their land. Deputy Barrett's amendment has begun a process which will give hope to landowners, but it relates only to this Merchant Shipping Bill. Hopefully, it will be the start of a process which will not stop until the whole problem is solved.

The provision in this Bill in this regard is only part of the solution. I accept the spirit and the intention of Deputy Barrett's amendment, with the exception that the amendment I tabled includes the word "malicious". Our courageous colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy O'Sullivan, promised to consider the question of the liability of owners or occupiers of lands used during a rescue operation. The proposed amendment exempts such persons from liability for personal injuries and for damage to vessels or cargo except where the owner or occupier or other agents are responsible for malicious injuries or damage. That is the only caveat to the amendment proposed by Deputy Barrett. I am not taking in any way from the credit due to Deputy Barrett for proposing his amendment, but my amendment adds that rider. Deputy Barrett has said he will accept the spirit and intention of my amendment. It is unlikely that owners of land will engage in any type of malicious interference with anything or anybody in the pursuit of the intention enshrined in this section. Nevertheless, there is a vague possibility that it may arise and those words are included in the amendment to cut off that possibility.

I am grateful to Deputies Barrett and Clohessy for the views they have expressed. To give credit where it is due, this will be known as the Barrett amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 11, to delete lines 17 to 19 and substitute the following:

"(3) The owner or occupier of lands shall have no liability in respect of——

(a) personal injuries which may be sustained by persons passing or repassing over such lands pursuant to subsection (1), or

(b) damage sustained to the vessel in distress, its cargo or any other article recovered therefrom,

except where the owner or occupier, or person duly acting as the servants or agents of the owner or occupier, are maliciously involved in such injuries or damage.".

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I congratulate the Minister on finalising this Bill which deals with all aspects of salvage and wreck and updates legislation in this regard. At the outset I wish to be associated with the remarks of goodwill to the Minister of State, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan. I wish him a speedy recovery.

Perhaps the Minister will consider a matter I raised on Committee Stage, that is, what happened following the collision of the mv Kilkenny in Dublin Bay on 21 November 1992. As I stated on Committee Stage, corrosive organic acid, labelled as furniture on the ship's manifest, was washed up on Dollymount Strand and other parts of Dublin Bay. It has been stated that an antiquated manual listing system is used by Irish freight companies. Perhaps this work should be done by computer. It has also been stated that up to 40 per cent of cargo could be mislisted. This matter arises under section 11 of the Bill. I understand that proposals are continually under consideration by the European Union Council and Commission to prevent mislisting, which can be dangerous to the citizens of this country. In his ongoing review of maritime matters perhaps the Minister will give serious consideration to that question.

I thank the Minister for accepting the amendments tabled on Committee Stage and for coming back on Report Stage with suitable wordings to improve the legislation. This is probably not the most exciting legislation that ever passed through this House but it is important, particularly for those involved in disasters at sea, and I hope it will improve matters in that regard. It will also help to clear our coastlines of wrecks which have caused damage to the environment over a number of years. It places liability on owners of vessels to remove wrecks or pay for the cost of their removal. All those provisions are to be welcomed. I know that only certain areas are affected by wrecks but they cause great annoyance. I hope that the provisions of this legislation will be used effectively to get rid of wrecks lying off our coastlines. The legislation will also help to deal with the ongoing problems on our seas.

As Deputy Haughey said the last day, we are dealing with possible new disasters in the context of the type of cargo and goods being carried on board ships. The laws of the sea are much too lax and legislation needs to be updated to deal with possible disasters. I am aware that as a small country we cannot change the world but we can use our influence as members of the European Union in any forum in which we participate to improve the position on our seas, increase safety and help protect the environment. Legislation such as this provides an opportunity to have a reasonable debate on what is happening on our seas.

As I said on Second Stage, I have one concern in this area and that relates to the increasing numbers travelling on board our ferries, which are a necessary part of our whole transport network. Considering the large number of vehicles and roll-on roll-off lorries carried on board our ferries, legislation should be consistently updated to ensure maximum safety and impose new measures to render that mode of transport safer. It is only when a disaster occurs that people panic and inquiries are set up. At present very large vessels carry goods, vehicles and passengers and while this legislation is not the proper measure with which to deal with this matter, the Minister should urgently consider existing legislation with a view to improving and updating it so that we can anticipate possible dangers and prevent disasters. I ask the Minister to consider such legislation and, if necessary, to come back to the House with new legislation to deal with ongoing advances in terms of the carriage of goods, vehicles and persons on our seas.

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.

Question put and agreed to.