Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Bill before the House today has three separate strands to it. These are, first, the enactment of a new legislative regime to regulate marine casualty investigation in Ireland; second, provision for an amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, to enable the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to provide a legislative framework to regulate the use of pleasure craft, including jet skis and fast power craft, in Ireland; and, third, provision for a technical amendment to the Sea Pollution Act, 1991, which provides clarification on the definition of maritime casualties in that Act.
I intend dealing with each strand separately. The first of these will see a major improvement in the law governing the investigation of marine casualties in Ireland. To this end, the primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for the enactment of a new legislative regime to regulate the entire area of maritime casualty investigation to replace the current statutory system which was established over a century ago in the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894.
Specifically it will establish an independent marine casualty board with enhanced powers to investigate marine casualties and provide for procedural aspects relating to the operation of the board; place a requirement on owners, charterers, masters and other specified people to report the occurrence of a marine casualty; provide for the appointment of marine casualty investigators with statutory powers by the board to investigate marine casualties in Irish waters, and indeed marine casualties involving Irish vessels wherever they occur, establish the cause of the casualty and make recommendations on the avoidance of similar casualties; ensure that all reports into casualties will be published within a specified timeframe – normally within nine months from the occurrence of the marine casualty; provide for the establishment, where necessary and following consultation with the board, of a tribunal of inquiry into a marine casualty; and provide powers to allow the testing for intoxicants in the aftermath of a marine casualty.
As Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, I have travelled to coastal communities throughout the country and, in doing so, I have become keenly aware of the attachment of these communities to their maritime traditions and the part the sea plays in their everyday lives. Unfortunately, I am only too well aware that the maritime area can sometimes be a dangerous one, and the investigation of accidents is an important need which must have regard to delicate and highly sensitive issues from the human, legal and technical perspectives.
For some time now, I have been very much aware of the concerns which are held not just by coastal communities but by the entire maritime community and the public in general, with regard to the way in which marine accidents are investigated by my Department. Indeed, it was back in 1992 when I, as Minister for the Marine, first identified the major gap which existed between what the current system provides and what the public expects, particularly when it comes to the publication of reports. It was clear to me then that in line with changes in public values and the trend towards more open government, the old system of casualty investigation, with inquiries behind closed doors and non-publication of reports, was no longer acceptable. Experience since then has shown that an enhanced statutory basis is essential to ensure fair and timely publication of casualty reports.
The existing statutory basis for investigating marine casualties is contained in the relevant provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. While this Act allows for the appointment of a person to carry out an investigation and to report to me, as Minister, on the findings of the investigation, it does not provide a statutory requirement for a report of the investigation to be published.
Since 1992, my Department has, at my request, been conducting investigations into marine accidents in a more open way. This was designed in the interests of maritime safety and in order to allay public concerns about such incidents. However, difficulties remain regarding the publication of reports, and progress in having marine casualty reports published has been slower than I would like. I am particularly aware of the disappointment and upset which bereaved families have experienced as a result of the delays which are occurring in the publication of reports and I fully appreciate that these delays are a cause of great concern to them. In November 1996, a review group was established by my Department to examine the existing policy, procedures and legislative framework for maritime casualty investigation in Ireland and to make recommendations.
The group was chaired by Mr. Vincent Power, solicitor and partner in A. & L. Goodbody, solicitors, and the membership included representatives of my Department, including the Marine Survey Office and the Irish Marine Emergency Service, as well as people with relevant knowledge and experience in accident investigation and from the legal and maritime professions. The policy aim underpinning the review was to put in place a modern casualty investigation system for Ireland, in accordance with highest international practice, which would provide greater clarity as to when such investigations should be held, how they should be conducted and what their role and scope should be. It was also intended that the policy would meet the needs and expectations of the various interested parties in relation to casualty investigations.
The setting up of this review group was an expression of the importance which we in the Department attach to tackling this issue. The task set for the review group was nothing less than a fundamental overhaul of the Irish marine casualty investigation system and it was considered essential that the task receive the fullest and most comprehensive consideration. Moreover, the task presented to the group proved to be more onerous than first thought and the issues involved for consideration proved to be extremely complex, varied and sensitive.
Apart from holding its own meetings, the group met with around 50 interested parties including representatives of various bereaved families, interested organisations and relevant Government agencies in Ireland and abroad. The group also examined the marine casualty investigation systems in various other countries, most notably those in Europe and in Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand. The review group examined the problems encountered in carrying out previous casualty investigations, and lessons learned, with a view to ensuring that the Department's procedures, particularly those concerning communication with bereaved families, the industry, media and other State agencies, should become more sensitive, clear and useful.
The policy review group submitted a detailed report of its deliberations to me in June 1998 and I published the report in September of that year. In its report, the review group has made 39 recommendations to improve the system of casualty investigations in Ireland. Key recommendations included were the establishment of an independent marine casualty investigation board with enhanced powers to investigate marine casualties; the enactment of a new legislative and procedural regime to regulate the entire area of marine casualty investigation to replace the system established in 1894; a specific timetable should be laid down for the investigation and publication processes; all reports into casualties should be published; the purpose of marine casualty investigation is to determine the cause of the casualty in an attempt to ensure that similar occurrences do not recur and the purpose of the investigation should not be to foster recrimination or apportion blame.
As a result of the group's work we now have a great opportunity to design a top class investigation system for Ireland in accordance with the highest international practice which will be conducted in compliance with the more open approach I envisaged back in 1992. I am confident that we have identified a new system of investigation which will resolve the current difficulties regarding the publication of reports and raising of expectations, as well as legal difficulties about whether reports can be published.
Therefore, I now consider that there is an urgent need to establish the marine casualty investigation board as part of my strategy to enhance safety standards throughout the seafaring community. The number of tragedies in recent years, particularly involving fishing vessels, is a major concern and it is important that the causes of any such future tragedy be determined and a report published quickly, so that the lessons to be learned will have maximum effect.
As I have already said, the primary purpose of this Bill is to provide for the enactment by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources of the new legislative and procedural regime to regulate the entire area of marine casualty investigation to replace the system established in 1894, over 100 years ago. I am confident that this new system should ensure that it will be clear to all what types of casualties will be investigated, when an investigation is necessary, who will conduct it and that a report of the investigation will be published within a specified time frame. In overall safety terms, it should mean that lessons learned from the investigation of a casualty will be disseminated more quickly and the needs of all interested parties will also be met without unnecessary delay.
I will now go on to deal with the main provisions in the Bill. First and foremost, the Bill provides for the establishment of an independent marine casualty investigation board comprising three people appointed by me, as Minister, as well as the chief surveyor of the Marine Survey Office and the Secretary General of the Department, or his or her nominee, in total a board of five people. The board will, therefore, have a majority of members from outside the Department and the Bill requires that the chairperson and deputy chairperson are appointed by the Minister from the three members appointed from outside. The model for the composition and independence of the board follows the recommendation of the policy review group which came to the conclusion, in the Irish context, that it was neither practical nor appropriate to establish a system whereby investigators and surveyors would be entirely separate from the Department. While I agree that it is necessary to draw on existing experience of marine casualty investigation in the Department, the Bill also makes provision for the engagement by the board of consultants, advisers and investigators for marine casualties as necessary. I am satisfied that through this measure the board will be in a position to ensure that the proper expertise will be available and will be utilised by the board when investigating casualties where particular circumstances would warrant such consideration.
The Bill provides for the investigation of marine casualties by the marine casualty investigation board and for the appointment of investigators by the board to undertake investigations of marine casualties on its behalf. The Bill also gives investigators specific powers to conduct investigations and provides penalties for persons who fail to provide information or records to the investigator. A feature of the Bill is the provision of specific powers for investigators to detain vessels, and crew members of vessels, involved in a marine casualty for the purpose of investigating the casualty. It also provides for crew members on board a vessel involved in a marine casualty incident to be tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs. While such powers were not previously available under the regulatory regime for marine casualty investigation in this country, they are fair, reasonable and necessary to allow the investigators carry out their functions in an efficient and comprehensive manner.
The policy review group strongly indicated in its report that the sole purpose of marine casualty investigations should be to determine the cause of the casualty so as to help prevent the occurrence of similar casualties. The group further recommended that the purpose of an investigation would not be to apportion blame or liability and this is reflected in the provisions of the Bill. In this regard, I accept the group's recommendation that marine casualty investigators should investigate the facts of a marine casualty and let others, such as the courts or disciplinary tribunals, establish blame and sanction fault where appropriate.
One of the most important elements of casualty investigation is the need for the relevant authorities to be notified as soon as possible of such casualties when they occur. The Bill provides clear rules on when, to whom and by whom casualties should be reported and sets out requirements on owners, masters and other specified persons to report the occurrence of a marine casualty immediately they are aware that a marine casualty has occurred, or as soon as is practical thereafter. This will enable the investigation board to commence its inquiries without any unnecessary delay and will improve the efficiency of an investigation as investigators will be able to set about gathering evidence while it is still fresh and available.
The Bill also provides in clearly set terms for the publication of reports into marine casualties. In particular, it sets out a statutory target of nine months from the reporting of a casualty for the publication of a report and that a report should contain all relevant findings of the investigation, indicate the causes or probable causes, if established, of the marine casualty and outline any recommendations that the board considers to be warranted and feasible to avoid similar marine casualties. It also makes provision for the publication of interim reports where a report cannot be completed within the nine months or at any time that the board considers it expedient. I am generally very pleased with the timeframes for publication which are specified in the Bill and this will lead to a huge improvement over the current situations where it can take a number of years before a report into a casualty is published. This situation is unacceptable to me as I am sure it is to many of those whose lives and families have been touched by marine tragedies and who have had their pain compounded by delays in learning of the circumstances of such tragedies. The completion of an investigation and publication of a report in as short a time as possible will play a vital role in meeting the needs of all those with an interest in an investigation and in the wider sense will help to instil greater public confidence in the overall investigation process.
In the past 18 months or so, I have published a number of important reports of marine casualty investigations. In doing so, my Department has complied with the principles of natural justice whereby any person whose reputation might be affected by issues raised in a report has been given an opportunity in advance of publication to address these issues and to have their comments included in the published report. These natural justice procedures are very much strengthened in the Bill which provides that such people should be given confidential sight of the draft report and a right of reply to be included in an appendix to the published report if that person so wishes.
I have published a number of reports into marine casualties in the past 18 months or so. These included: a report of the investigation into the loss of the fishing vesselCarrickatine with a crew of six people on 15 November 1995; a report of the investigation into the loss of the fishing vessel Jenalisa with a crew of three people on 4 February 1996; a report of the investigation into the loss of the fishing vessel Scarlet Buccaneer at Howth, County Dublin, on 16 November 1995; a report of the investigation into the capsize of the harbour tug/workboat New Ross One on 8 August 1995; and a report of the investigation into the collision between the French fishing vessel Agena and the Irish fishing vessel Orchidee on 22 September 1992.
A number of investigations are ongoing in my Department and a number of other reports are being processed for publication in consultation with the Attorney General's office. I am anxious that work will continue to have these reports published as soon as possible. The Bill provides for the Marine Casualty Investigation Board to complete any investigations which are outstanding at the time that the board may be established. This will ensure not only that reports of these investigations will be published as promised but also that there will not be any gaps in terms of publication between the system now in place and the new regulatory system which will replace it.
The second major element of the Bill is the provision for an amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, to enable the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to provide a legislative framework to regulate the use of pleasure craft in Ireland, including jet skis and fast power craft, as recommended in the interim report of the action group on small powered recreational craft which I published recently.
Section 20 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, enables the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources by way of regulations, to make provisions for the safety of pleasure craft and their occupants and it was under this section that I introduced the Merchant Shipping (Jet Skis and Fast Power Boat) Regulations, 1992, to enable local authorities, regional fisheries boards, harbour authorities and the Commissioners of Public Works to propose to the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources that areas within, or in the seas adjoining, their jurisdiction be designated as unsuitable for the operation of these craft in the interests of the safety of pleasure craft and their occupants.
However, because of the limitations in the provisions of the 1992 Merchant Shipping Act, the measures are only available for the protection of pleasure craft and their occupants and do not extend to the protection of swimmers, bathers or the natural environment as these matters would be beyond the scope of the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources' statutory powers.
To date, three areas have been designated under the 1992 regulations. These are Lough Carra, County Mayo, Lough Owel, County Westmeath and Carlingford Harbour, County Louth. A number of other proposals have been received for consideration by my Department.
While the Merchant Shipping (Jet Skis and Fast Power Boat) Regulations, 1992, were introduced to prevent these craft operating in certain areas, difficulties arose concerning the implementation of these regulations and the Office of the Attorney General has advised that they are now considered to be legally unsound and do not provide the scope of what most local authorities proposals seek to achieve. As a result, further processing of designation proposals had to be suspended by my Department.
Since returning to office as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources in 1997, I have been very conscious of the widespread concerns being expressed by many people about the safe use of recreational craft for personal purposes and in particular the reports of indiscriminate and irresponsible use of jet skis and fast power craft by a small number of individuals.
Some limited action had been taken on a number of fronts to address these widespread concerns, including good work on zoning undertaken by a number of coastal local authorities, namely Galway, Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. However, in view of the growing public concern I took the initiative in August 1999 to establish a broadly representative action group to address this important matter, especially in the light of a number of recent serious accidents, and fatalities, involving jet skis and fast craft. Furthermore, following the recent tragedy off Dunany Point, County Louth, where four people, including two children, tragically lost their lives, I secured Cabinet approval to include the drawing up of a safety policy for small powered leisure craft within the terms of reference of the action group.
My central aim in setting up this action group is to put in place policies and practical measures to protect the safety of all water users in the context of a comprehensive safety regime for recreational craft generally. My basic aim in relation to fast water craft and jet skis is to stop irresponsible behaviour by a small number of users, to protect the safety of other water users and to end the reported severe nuisance and distress being caused in certain locations and in traditional bathing, boating and angling areas. I have asked the action group to carry out a comprehensive review of the safe use of personal recreational water craft and to consider measures which will be effective, sensible an enforceable and will be instrumental in introducing a shift in the culture towards safety as the overriding consideration.
I have outlined to the group that I envisage a new safety regime imposing strict controls on fast water craft which would include a requirement on training and operator competence testing, operator licences and craft registration. As regards other recreational craft, I have urged the group to address urgently and imaginatively how we can ensure that children in particular are adequately safeguarded in the event of a vessel capsize or other accidents. Wearing suitable lifejackets or buoyancy aids is of central importance as is the need to get the safety message across to such craft users, particularly in terms of competence in the use of such craft and an understanding of risk to themselves and others.
The action group, in its deliberations, has particular regard to the Marine Institute's current study on safety policy in the marine leisure sector, the good work on zoning undertaken by a number of coastal local authorities and best practice and ideas in place and being developed internationally to ensure that all water users can enjoy their activities in safety. An important series of seminars on personal recreational watercraft and on commercial craft used in the marine tourism and leisure sector was organised late last year by the Marine Institute as part of its study of the existing safety regime for the marine leisure industry. These proved to be timely and relevant as they played an important role as an initial phase in the consultative process being undertaken by the action group on small powered recreational craft. This consultative process will form a key element in the work of the action group and has been vital in ensuring that a broad spectrum of views from interested parties can be gathered to enable the informing of a genuine safety policy with regard to personal recreational watercraft.
Members of the action group were present at each of the seminars and they participated actively in making them a success. I am sure the views they heard and the knowledge of the sector they gained has helped them enormously in their deliberations. When I established the action group, I asked the chairman to provide me with an interim report by the middle of November 1999. The group completed its initial review of the issues posed specifically by the use of personal water craft – jet skis – and fast power craft in Ireland as an initial step. The interim report of the action group was presented to me on schedule.
I welcome the thrust and content of the interim report and in particular the conclusion that there is a strong case, first, to support and extend, as the primary public policy response to these issues, the use of local by-laws to regulate the use of jet skis and fast power craft; second, to construct a complementary national system to put in place a range of conditions governing the use of such craft, applicable to all locations and circumstances and, third, to put in place measures and capacities which will persuade or allow users of such craft to attain the levels of competence and training necessary to deliver responsible use of such craft. I have also accepted the group's recommendation that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources should provide a legislative framework to allow for the enactment by local authorities of the necessary by-laws to govern the use of jet skis and fast power craft and to provide in regulations a set of uniform conditions to be applied nationally to all users of such craft in all circumstances.
It has been my clearly stated intention to move quickly, on foot of this interim report, to provide the comprehensive legislative framework recommended in order that I may address the problems which have been identified. I am satisfied that this proposed legislative framework and subsequent regulations will redress the deficiencies identified in existing law and provide an effective set of conditions to regulate the use of jet skis and fast craft in Ireland.
The amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, provided for in the Bill has been designed to provide the legislative framework as recommended by the action group and, as a result, the Minister will be empowered to regulate for the safety of pleasure craft, including jet skis and fast power craft, their occupants and, most significantly, other persons and property from injury or damage caused by or resulting from the use of pleasure craft. The amendment in the Bill also enables the Minister to provide local authorities and bodies with the power to introduce by-laws to control the use of such craft in areas under their jurisdiction and to appoint authorised officers for the purpose of enforcing these by-laws.
In the wider context I note with great interest the action group's agreement on the paramount need to ensure the safety on the water of children and young people, particularly as they are becoming more and more involved in water based activities. I particularly welcome the recommendations it has made in relation to the wearing of appropriate lifejackets, the minimum age under which they should not be allowed to operate fast craft and the need to view this in the context of an overall appreciation of water safety.
The action group still has much work to do in order to complete its task, not least to address the issues which have been raised and to draw up the parameters of an appropriate policy in the areas of regulation, culture change, safety awareness, education and training. I also accept the group's view that the legislative framework it has proposed currently represents only an initial step in the process. I share the view that the legislation proposed for enactment, both at local and national level, should be the subject of a further partnership consultative process in regard to its design, implementation and local management.
While the final report of the action group is not due until the end of February, the legislative framework now proposed will enable the Minister to act quickly on whatever further regulatory recommendations are made by the group. We all have a joint interest in developing and promoting the safe use of the marine and inland waterway resources in Ireland. In particular, we each owe a duty of care to ensure that our waters are made safe for the enjoyment of all. We must continue to work together to achieve the highest safety standards possible. I expect the action group to proceed with its deliberations and to deliver its final report in February 2000.
The third and smallest strand of the Bill is the inclusion of an amendment to the Sea Pollution Act, 1991, which provides clarification on the definition of maritime casualties in that Act. This technical amendment has been included on the advice of the Attorney General to reflect greater clarity in the legal drafting of this definition and does not materially alter the substance of the 1991 Act.
This legislation is vital, first, to establish a new, open and more modern legislative regime to regulate the entire area of marine casualty investigation in Ireland as we enter the new millennium and, second, to enact the legislative framework which will allow for the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, as the appropriate national authority, to make provisions for the purpose of ensuring the safety of all recreational craft, the occupants of recreational craft and any other persons or property from injury, damage and disturbance arising out of the use of recreational craft, with the emphasis on personal watercraft and fast power craft in the first instance.
Before concluding, I wish to thank Deputies Finucane and Bell for their constructive and searching contributions and support during my term of office as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. We have managed to achieve a great deal in the House. Those achievements are the result of both the ideas raised by the Opposition spokesmen and their co-operation. They made it possible to get many measures through the House and implemented at an early stage. I also thank the people in the marine indus try, BIM, the Marine Institute and the Central Fisheries Board for their co-operation. I hope it has been a productive period and I welcome the support they gave me. I particularly thank the chairpersons of the relevant boards.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Minister for his kind comments. I compliment him and wish him well in his new brief. Over the years, as is inevitable in this House, there has been a certain amount of confrontation. However, I believe this Department was always dealt with constructively by all sides. We endeavoured to do what we believed was best for the industry which expects us to act on its behalf. The marine industry would have welcomed it if the Minister had remained in the Department because there is a feeling in that sector that the industry is not treated as seriously by Governments as it should. Sometimes it is regarded as the Cinderella industry. Had he remained in the brief, the Minister might have dispensed with that notion. However, he is moving on to pastures new and we wish him well. I hope both Deputy Bell and I on the Opposition benches will continue to represent the industry as best we can.
I welcome the legislation to regulate the area of marine casualty investigation. The current system has been in place for over 100 years, since 1894. The legislation is timely and the recent accident between two fishing vessels about 80 miles off the Aran Islands helped us to focus on potential hazards at sea and the necessity for legislation of this nature. Fortunately, no lives were lost. However, according to a press statement issued by the Minister's Department on Saturday, 22 January, there was a potential risk to the coastline with about 34,000 gallons of intermediate oil spilt into the sea. On Sunday a further release from the Minister's Department estimated that about 500 gallons was involved in the spillage. There is a serious conflict between both sets of information and the Department should explain how this could be the case. Fortunately, because of favourable winds, it appears at this stage that the oil will not finish up on our coastline. We are fortunate that this appears to be the case. Recent television pictures of the scenes in Brittany showed the havoc which can be caused by an oil spillage.
Having received such a warning, it behoves the Departments of the Marine and Natural Resources and the Environment and Local Government to ensure proper protection measures for our coastline. It also lends a sense of urgency for the Government to purchase a tug boat to deal with sea pollution, especially where oil is involved. I am aware a comprehensive document was produced recently and is being considered by the Irish Marine Emergency Service, which I believe has been rechristened the Coastguard Service, a more suitable name consistent with other countries which have coastguard services. It is important for the Department to move swiftly and purchase a tug boat. The accident off the Aran Islands was a warning shot. With busy shipping lanes, it is inevitable that something will go wrong at some stage. It would take many years to recover from the damage which would be done to our coastlines and ecology by an oil spillage. We should be prepared.
It is worth bearing in mind that, although a great deal of attention is focused on incidents involving commercial fishing craft, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution statistics show that, of all call-outs answered by voluntary lifeboat crews, about 45% were for pleasure craft. While this legislation addresses the process of marine casualty investigation, the emphasis must be on safety. Therefore, statutory regulation is required for pleasure craft and jet skis. The Bill seeks to amend the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, and it is important that these regulations are in place as soon as possible. The current regulations under the Merchant Shipping Act for jet skis and fast power boats have been found to be seriously deficient and in need of amendment.
Recently, possibly as a result of our increased prosperity, jet skis and power boats have become more popular. Jet skis are as dangerous as a powerful 1200cc motorbike, yet no licence, insurance or experience is required for these jet skis which are capable of speeds up to 50 miles per hour. There is concern in this regard in the UK where up to seven deaths have occurred in four years. The British Government intends to ensure that powers are given to local authorities to control the use of jet skis where necessary. While one council in Ireland, Fingal County Council, has taken the initiative on the control of jet skis in its area, it is imperative that the Minister sets out strict regulations on how, when, where and by whom jet skis can be sold.
It should not be left solely to local authorities to implement the regulations. The Minister's Department must ensure that fines and custodial sentences for breaches of the regulations are in place. Already, many Mediterranean countries with more sunshine and favourable weather conditions have been licensing, registering and even banning the use of jet skis. Jet skis conjure up images of excitement. Perhaps if they were called nautical motorbikes, which is what they are, it might conjure up more images of risk and the inherent safety factors involved. There is almost a laissez-faire attitude to safety.
With the Celtic tiger creating a great deal of wealth, people are buying power boats, some of them with up to 200 horse power engines and capable of speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. In unfavourable weather conditions with choppy waters, they are likely to capsize. We were reminded of that by the recent tragedy in Cork where two people lost their lives when they went out in a power boat for the first time. If we want to focus on the safety aspect, we can reflect on the loss of life in Ireland in recent years, not only to jet skis but also to power boats. Some Irish tourists in continental destinations used jet skis and tragically lost their lives. Many people using water craft do not even wear life jackets. While they may show scant respect for their safety, they also show little respect for others in the area, such as swimmers. Considering that from £4,000 to £10,000 may be paid for a jet ski or a power boat, it is sad to think that a person will not pay between £60 and £70 for a power boat course with a suitable body, such as the Irish Sailing Association.
It is, therefore, imperative that appropriate amendments are made to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, which is included in the Bill to cater for the regulation of pleasure craft. Swift action is needed. We have seen some sad tragedies over the past few years involving jet skis and power boats. It is, therefore, vital in the new millennium that swift action is taken to prevent further loss of life.
On the subject of safety, young people and the urgent need for them to be conscious of safety, in March 1999 I introduced the Activity Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety) Bill, the spirit and intent of which was accepted by the Government which promised to try to introduce suitable legislation before the summer recess of last year. It also promised to compile a comprehensive report on activity centres. I compliment it on having completed that report on time in June 1999, which was the commitment given in the House in March. I would welcome the legislation being in place before the summer recess of this year. The person who helped me focus on this matter was Michael Davies who was in the House last March when the Bill was discussed. He pressed for effective legislation and controls to be introduced. There is concern that we are dragging our heels on this issue. Michael Davies regrettably lost his son in the tragedy in Dunmore East. It is disappointing at this stage that we appear to be moving slowly. We are dealing with water, safety and marine casualties investigation, so we should try to progress the other legislation as soon as possible.
Between December 1998 and September 1999 the Department produced reports on investigations into marine casualties involving loss of life. I wish to refer to three in particular in the context of the targets set in the Bill – the loss of the fishing vessels Jenalisa and Scarlet Bucaneer and the collision between the French vessel Agena and the Irish vessel Orchidee. I understand six people were drowned in these three marine casualties, an indication of the hazardous environment in which fishermen earn their livelihood and associated risks.
Section 21 sets out a statutory target of nine months from the reporting of a casualty for the publication of a report. Although a laudable objective, is it achievable? There is often a long grieving process for next of kin while an investigation is being conducted. The families of James Power and Robert Doran had to wait seven years for a report on the investigation into the collision between the Agena and the Orchidee on 22 Sep tember 1992. It was finally published in September 1999. Two members of the French vessel were found guilty of negligence by a French judge on 27 September 1996. This resulted in the investigation being prolonged. Section 25 of the Bill deals with the apportionment of blame or fault. The Minister is fully aware that the grief experienced by the Doran and Power families was compounded when it appeared to them that, despite the findings of the investigation, there was an apportionment of blame between the French and Irish vessels.
The loss of the Jenalisa on 4 February 1996 resulted in the deaths of three fishermen. The report on the investigation was published almost three years later in December 1998. The loss of the Scarlet Bucaneer at Howth in November 1995 resulted in the death of the skipper, Mr. Tom Currid. The report on the investigation was published over three years later in March 1999.
Although the target of nine months is laudable, is it achievable given past experience of casualty investigations? Based on past experience the marine casualty investigation unit, which I hope will be used only on rare occasions or not at all, will have to resort to presenting interim reports as provided for in section 31. While I recognise that a target has to be set, is the target of nine months too ambitious and rigid given past experience?
To prevent accidents and casualties at sea emphasis has to be placed on safety. In 1996 the previous Minister, Deputy Barrett, produced an excellent document on safety in the fishing industry. It was a comprehensive analysis of the safety status of the fishing fleet. About 6% of the 1,352 vessels registered were over 24 metres in length. About 65% were less than 12 metres. The survey showed that the number of new entrants to the fleet was very low. I accept that the grant incentives for the whitefish fleet will help to ensure new vessels are satisfactory from a safety perspective.
To establish the safety status of the fleet 150 vessels were surveyed by the safety review group which concluded that 64% had serious deficiencies, especially those in the 12 to 24 metre category. This is an exceptionally high figure. It also established that there was a general lack of consciousness of safety among fishermen and recommended that minimum safety standards should be set down for the fleet. The representatives of the fishing industry on the safety review group considered that the high number of older vessels had serious implications from a safety perspective. Unless the current approach to modernisation of the whitefish fleet is reflected in the operational programme for the period 2000 to 2006 the consequences for safety at sea will be serious. Unless generous financial incentives are given by the State and the European Union, particularly in the commercial fleet where margins are tight, the situation will deteriorate.
The Minister has announced safety grants for the fleet in successive years. How many vessels have availed of these grants in the last three years since the report was produced? How many of the remaining vessels give cause for concern in terms of safety? What action will be taken to ensure minimum safety standards are applied within the fleet? Is the Minister satisfied that there are sufficient staff in the marine survey office to conduct a survey of all vessels? The percentages for the registered fleet were extrapolated from a random sample of 150 vessels. If there is a necessity to beef up the marine survey office this should be done. It would be a small price to pay to prevent lives being lost at sea. The fleet should be included with jet skis, power boats, pleasure craft and youth activity centres. Greater emphasis is placed on safety in many continental countries, especially on inland waterways. In this context I welcome as a positive development the emphasis being placed on these reports to increase consciousness of the importance of safety. Before one can drive a motor car one has to do a driving test. It is crazy that a person does not have to undergo any test to use a jet ski or power boat, putting his or her life and the lives of others at risk in the process.
In the past only serious marine casualties were investigated. This legislation is therefore desirable to change the current system which was established in 1894. If the recommendations of the safety review group were fully implemented and regulations introduced and effectively policed for pleasure craft the necessity to use the marine casualty investigation board would be minimised. This Bill is intended to strengthen the Minister's powers in the regrettable event of a marine casualty occurring. If the Minister suspects the involvement of alcohol or drugs, he will have the power to detain the crew and the vessel and carry out a thorough investigation. The Bill's objective is to ensure that such an investigation would be carried out within a limited time frame. The Bill's provisions are not intended to apportion blame. There is a feeling that when casualties occur, blame is apportioned in a certain direction. I understand the logic behind this Bill. The Minister is seeking to ensure that where marine casualties occur and investigations must be carried out, the Bill recommends a certain course of action in order to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents. Parallel with this, a comprehensive survey of all our vessels must be undertaken to ensure they are of a satisfactory standard from a safety and stability point of view.
We are all shocked when we witness marine casualties. I have only been a Member of this House for the past ten years but I recall several occasions on which we lamented the loss of fishing trawlers at sea. We are all aware of the hazardous and hostile environment in which the trawlers operate and people should be given the necessary incentives, whether by the Government or the EU, to ensure the safety of their vessels. There will be a broad welcome for the important amendment of the Bill in regard to pleasure craft, power boats, jet skis and so on. If we introduce regulations and instruct local authorities to introduce by-laws, we must specify the type of controls which should exist. A person should not be able to purchase a jet ski or a power boat without being properly equipped and trained in the craft's operation.
I welcome the appointment of Deputy Fahey as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. Being based in Galway, he comes from a marine area. He may need some time to familiarise himself with the brief but I am sure the Minister of State will assist him. I welcome the legislation but I hope it will not be necessary to implement its provisions.
I join with Deputy Finucane in saying bon voyage to the outgoing Minister, Deputy Woods, and I wish him every success in his new brief. I am sure he will encounter stormier waters in the Department of Education and Science than he did in the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. I congratulate Deputy Fahey on his appointment to the Cabinet as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. I hope he will follow the line taken by Deputy Woods who was always prepared to listen to the views of Opposition Members and other groups with an interest in marine activity. Deputy Woods went a considerable way towards meeting constructive proposals which I and my colleagues made over the years. I regret that the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, did not make it to the premier division – perhaps he will next time. We are glad he is still with us.
Many local authorities do not have either the outdoor or the administrative staff to carry out their existing functions. As a town clerk once said to me, "It's all very fine for you fellows to pass legislation in the Dáil, but it is pointless if you do not give us the money to employ manpower and purchase equipment to implement the regulations.". As someone who has been a local authority member for the past 25 years, I am satisfied that the necessary manpower would not be available to implement local authority by-laws in regard to the coast of County Louth, for example. Most of the activity referred to in this Bill will occur at weekends and during holiday periods. It would not be possible to ensure that local authority staff would be available to supervise by-laws laid down in regard to pleasure boat and other marine activities. We must specify how these provisions will be financed. Perhaps that will happen on Committee Stage.
I want to give a general welcome to this long overdue Bill. It is ludicrous that we have been depending on an Act passed more than 100 years ago for a legislative framework within which to deal with marine casualties. When the Act passed, steamers were still at an early stage of development and sailing vessels were the norm. Given the speed, power, size and technical sophistication of modern vessels, it is simply incomprehensible that we were relying on an Act passed when Queen Victoria was still on the throne in Britain.
The Bill arises from the report of the investigation of marine casualties policy review group established by Deputies Barrett and Gilmore when they served in the Department of the Marine. They are to be congratulated for their foresight in establishing the group which has produced a first class report. However, not all of the group's recommendations have been acted upon in this legislation. Perhaps the Minister will outline what the Department proposes to do in regard to the other activity recommended in the report but not contained in the legislation. Is it intended to publicise it through statutory instruments or regulations? This is a very important aspect of this debate.
The report recommended that a period of seven years should pass before a person lost at sea should be presumed dead and that this period should be shortened by statute in the context of marine casualties where there is material evidence which indicates that the person has been lost at sea and is dead. I cannot see that any action has been taken in the Bill in this regard. The families of those who are lost at sea are often left in a prolonged state of limbo which is a terrible tragedy.
The proper regulation of marine safety and the provision of a proper framework for the investigation of marine accidents is an important matter for any country. It is particularly important for Ireland as an island nation with one of the longest coastlines in Europe and as a country located adjacent to busy sea lanes. The loss of life involved in the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise or the Estonia illustrates the terrible consequences which result when modern ferries get into difficulties. Hundreds of thousands of people pass to and from Britain and the continent by ferry each year. It is essential to ensure they have the highest degree of safety and protection available.
While the ferries operating to and from the country have good safety records nothing can be taken for granted, as the two disasters I referred to show. Within the past year there have been a number of incidents involving the HSS Stena Explorer. In May the vessel was hit by fire while two months earlier it was involved in a docking accident in which it was holed below the waterline. Luckily these minor incidents were easily contained, but as we have seen in other cases, such incidents can become major tragedies at sea.
While we have escaped large-scale shipping tragedies, there have been a number of accidents and sinkings which have resulted in loss of life. The pain and loss felt by the families of those who lost their lives is no less deep than that experienced by the families of those who died in major disasters. The 1991 collision involving the MV Kilkenny and the Hasselwerder resulted in the death of three B & I crewmen. The disappearance of the Carrickatine with the loss of six lives in November 1995 was one of the most serious disasters of recent years. Despite what was probably the most comprehensive search in the history of the State, the wreck was not found and the cause of the accident was not authentically established. Most distressingly for all of the families concerned, the bodies of the six crewmen involved were not recovered. There were other accidents. The MV Jenalisa, referred to by the Minister, sank with the loss of three lives in February 1996 and two drowned when the Orchidee was struck by the French registered Agena in September 1992.
We tend to forget the constant dangers fishermen and crew members on merchant vessels face as they try to keep us supplied. It is in the nature of seafaring that no matter what precautions are taken, the elements and the danger of risk can never be totally eliminated. For example, a sudden change in the weather can leave major vessels exposed and human error can put others at risk.
The huge increase in leisure boating and sailing brings further risks. There was the tragic loss of life of young people in an accident at Dunany in my constituency. Driver and passengers using the roadways must comply with statuary regulations covering the use of safety belts, insurance and licences. Yet, people can use high speed power boats without licence, insurance or even the proper equipment. On many occasions I have seen boats along the coastline of my constituency grossly overloaded in terms of personnel. There is a need to consider introducing regulations to cover these aspects and I look forward to debating this on Committee Stage.
I will reserve my additional contributions on the Bill for Committee Stage, when I look forward to dealing with the matters raised in greater detail. I welcome the Bill. While it will be supported by the Labour Party, it will require amendments on Committee Stage. I look forward to the Minister's response to the points I have raised.
Ba mhaith liom ar an gcéad dul síos mo chomhgháirdeas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Fahey as ucht a bheith ainmnithe mar Aire na Mara agus Acmhainní Nádúrtha.
I am pleased that Deputy Fahey is the new Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. He is from a maritime constituency and he and I shared an office for many years. I am sure the relationship between us will be very good.
Ba mhaith liom freisin mo chomhgháirdeas agus mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire Woods as ucht na hoibre a rinne sé mar Aire na Mara. I congratulate him on his appointment as Minister for Education and Science. Members of the House must admit he is a very hard worker. He is highly regarded by groups for which he was responsible in the ministries he held. I am not sure if Deputy Bell is correct to say he is moving into stormier waters, but I am sure he will have the calming effect he has always had. I wish him well.
I thank Deputies for their contribution to this debate. The legislation deserves significant comment. I thank the two Oppositions spokespeople for presenting well researched views. It is indicative of the seriousness of their approach. Their acceptance of the Bill also indicates that they are more interested in what happens at sea than in making political points.
It would be easy for me to conclude this debate by 2.30 p.m. but I will not do so because of the seriousness of this legislation. The issue of safety at sea was referred to by both Opposition spokespeople and the Minister. Most safety at sea measures could be applied if there was more common sense, and difficulties will continue in the absence of it, regardless of the legislative provisions introduced. For example, regardless of whether the saying that most fishermen cannot swim is true or false, it is an issue that must be addressed. It is also clear to those who live near the coast that very few of those who use craft, be it for leisure, fishing or commercial use, wear lifebelts.
There is no difficulty in getting access to boats. For example, there are no regulations to prevent a 12 year old from taking a craft of any size out to sea. Often people go to sea on a whim and what was to have been a day of enjoyment sometimes ends in tragedy because of failure to apply regulations and commonsense measures. All those involved in the marine area should spread this message to those using the sea for whatever reason.
The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the enactment of a new legislative regime to regulate the entire area of maritime casualty investigation in Ireland and to replace the current statutory system, which was established in 1894. That is not to say that old legislation is bad legislation – it had some excellent points.