There are three key statutory provisions, contained in the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act, 1993, which govern the removal or rendering harmless of wrecked vessels. Section 51(2) of the Act places a responsibility on the owner of a wreck to remove or render it harmless where it is likely to become an obstruction or danger to navigation or to lifeboats engaged in the lifeboat service, or a threat of harm to the marine environment or related interests, which include fishing and tourist activities, which constitute the means of livelihood for persons concerned, and the tourist attractions of any area concerned. Section 51(3) of the Act empowers appropriate authorities, which are defined as harbour authorities, local authorities and the Commissioners of Irish Lights, to serve a notice on an owner requiring him or her to remove or render harmless a wreck in these circumstances.
Under section 52 of the Act, the appropriate authorities also have certain powers to themselves remove or render harmless an offending wreck and to recover the expenses incurred from the relevant person. The relevant person is defined as the owner of the wreck at the time when it sunk or was wrecked, grounded, stranded or abandoned. While the powers of harbour authorities and the Commissioners of Irish Lights to remove a wreck arise only where it is likely to be an obstruction or danger to navigation or lifeboats, local authorities — in this instance Mayo County Council — have further discretion to act if the wreck constitutes a threat to the marine environment or to related interests.