Maritime Safety Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I pin my colours to the mast to state that maritime safety will remain at the top of my political agenda and that of the Government. I signal my commitment to greater safety awareness by all vessel operators and other users and greater and more widespread public enjoyment of the Irish waters which are nature's gift. In piloting the Bill through the House, I wish it to be clear that while it is overdue, the legislation is only one of a wide range of measures being developed on an ongoing basis to enhance maritime safety.

The Bill, passed by the Seanad on 4 May, contains a considerable package of measures designed to enhance maritime safety. It provides clear powers for local authorities to make by-laws to regulate and control the use of jet-skis and other fast, powered recreational craft. Powers to make by-laws are also provided for Waterways Ireland, harbour companies, harbour authorities, Iarnród Éireann and, in respect of the five fishery harbour centres, for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources or me through formally delegated authority.

The Bill's provisions outlaw and penalise a wide range of reckless behaviour on or with vessels generally. The legislation provides a statutory basis for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, or me through formally delegated powers, to prepare and promulgate, under Part 3, codes of practice to ensure the proper operation of vessels generally and, under Parts 4 and 5, to update fines in related Acts. An updated, detailed explanatory and financial memorandum was published with the Bill as passed by the Seanad for the convenience of Members of the Dáil.

Early enactment of the Bill is most desirable as the holiday season gets under way, to strengthen the law and encourage greater safety awareness in the use not only of the seas around the coast, but of rivers, lakes, canals and other inland waters of the State. In sending a clear signal on the improper use of jet-skis and speed boats on seas and inland waters, the Bill will benefit tourism and leisure businesses, safeguard human life and prevent damage to our natural and archaeological heritage. The original primary impetus for the Bill was the need to fill the gap in the law to prevent the improper use of jet-skis and other fast, powered recreational craft in public amenity and heritage areas.

The power of local authorities to make by-laws under the local government Acts does not extend to waters or lands not under their control or management. Part 2 provides local authorities with the necessary by-law and enforcement powers to regulate and control powered recreational craft in coastal and inland waters not under the control or management of the other statutory authorities set out. The authorities in question are Waterways Ireland, harbour companies, harbour authorities, Iarnród Éireann and the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Bill provides matching powers to these authorities to make by-laws in respect of waters under their control or management to meet any need which arises.

Fines of up to €2,000 on summary conviction for offences under by-laws are set out in the Bill, as are fixed-payment notices, or on-the-spot-fines, for minor offences, where appropriate. Provision is also made for the seizure, detention and forfeiture of craft involved in serious offences and the disqualification of serious offenders from operating the craft in question in the interest of public safety and heritage protection.

Part 5 — originally Part 3 — updates penalty provisions in a number of related Acts, dating back to 1946, and inserts in each of them provisions for fixed payment notices — on-the-spot fines — for other offences of a minor nature, where appropriate, for consistency with the penalty provisions in Part 2. The opportunity was taken also to make some additional updating found to be necessary to remove doubt in the law and ease its administration.

Parts 3 and 4 were inserted in the Bill by Seanad Éireann on my recommendation. They are designed to fill gaps in maritime safety law governing vessels generally and to update and codify existing provisions dating back as far as the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. Part 3 outlaws and provides suitable penalties for a comprehensive range of reckless behaviour on or with vessels generally and provides for codes of practice to be prepared and promulgated by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, or me to encourage best safety and environmental practices in the use of vessels generally.

Part 4 updates ministerial regulation-making provisions dating from 1992 and amended in 2000 in regard to passenger boats, fishing vessels and pleasure craft. Arising from a further detailed review of the Bill and earlier legislation by the Department with the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government and colleagues in the Office of the Attorney General, which time has allowed since the Bill was passed by Seanad Éireann, I will propose further amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage. I will table these with detailed explanatory notes as soon as Second Stage is agreed.

The amendments will further improve the accessibility and coherence of the law, in accordance with the Government's 2004 White Paper, Regulating Better, by incorporating in the Bill updated provisions of earlier Merchant Shipping Acts going back to 1981, as well as updating penalties in additional Merchant Shipping Acts, going back to 1979, all designed to enhance maritime safety. In particular, the amendments will include provisions deleted from the Sea Pollution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003 for updating penalties and other provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992. There will also be drafting amendments proposed to clarify the text and ensure compatibility with other relevant legislation, and to repeal two Acts — one from 1934 and one from 1937 — which have long ceased to be of any use but still clog-up the Statute Book.

I wish to deal with a number of other maritime safety measures which are yielding fruit. The wearing of life-jackets is an essential element in staying safe on the water. Life-jackets save lives. The Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) (Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004 make it compulsory for all children up to the age of 16 years to wear a life-jacket while on board a pleasure craft. The Irish Coastguard and the maritime safety directorate of the Department and the Garda are intensifying enforcement action in that regard as an increasing number of people take to the water. I take this opportunity to appeal again to the public generally and parents, in particular, to take responsibility for safety by wearing life-jackets and encouraging others to do so, and by taking other sensible precautions while on the water at any time. The Department will be intensifying its targeted publicity campaign for water safety in the coming weeks. It will undertake a radio campaign over the next bank holiday weekends in the summer promoting safety measures for leisure craft users.

In addition, the Irish Coastguard will undertake an at-sea advisory programme in selected areas where water-based leisure activities are significant. Under this programme, introduced for the first time last summer, Irish Coastguard coastal units will undertake water-based patrols to monitor and advise leisure craft users on the requirements for wearing life-jackets and other safety issues. Throughout 2005, the Irish Coastguard will also attend various events around the coast providing advice and marine safety demonstrations for the public.

I attended a safety demonstration at Rosses Point on Sunday last. I was impressed by it, as were the many hundreds of people who turned up. They could see at first hand the various professional agencies at work in addition to the many volunteers who contribute to safety at sea. I thank and congratulate all of them. These demonstrations are held yearly at various locations around the country and are extremely important. They highlight the importance of wearing the necessary life-jackets, carrying the marine telephones and the necessity to keep in touch. I also draw the attention of the House and of the public generally to the water safety website —— which gives important information on safety for various types of watersports.

Another key initiative in the area of safety of pleasure craft is the development of a code of practice for recreational craft. The code will set out current legislative requirements governing recreational craft as well as providing detailed guidance and information on best practice for the safe operation of such craft. The code was the subject of a public consultation process in 2004 and again recently with interested organisations. The code is being finalised and I intend to launch it over the summer.

A proposal to establish a small vessel register for small commercial and recreational craft of less than 15 net tonnes registered weight has also been the subject of public consultation. The comments arising from that process are being evaluated.

The marine surveyors of the maritime safety directorate of the Department inspect vessels, in accordance with the flag state and port state control regimes, to ensure that they comply with the safety standards laid down. The surveyors inspect Irish registered vessels at least annually. The marine surveyors also conduct safety inspections on passenger ships and passenger boats. These inspections, including unannounced checks, are undertaken throughout the State in regard to vessels at sea and on inland waters to determine whether there is compliance with licensing requirements, particularly those relating to crewing qualifications and numbers, maximum number of passengers allowed, safety procedures and the continued availability on board of the required proper safety equipment in working order.

By specific decision of this House in 2003, sea-fishing boat licensing is, since the enactment of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003 on 1 July 2003, conditional on every boat concerned being surveyed and found to be both safe and seaworthy. I will table amendments on Committee Stage to replace this general requirement with more specific safety requirements to be met by sea-fishing boats of different classes before sea-fishing boat licences are issued.

In the case of vessels greater than 24 m in length, comprehensive regulations are already in place and such vessels must pass a survey to ascertain compliance with these regulations before a sea-fishing boat licence is issued. It is my intention shortly to introduce new safety regulations applicable to sea-fishing vessels of between 15 m and 24 m in length. It will be necessary to give time to owners of these boats to have their boats surveyed. In the meantime the sea-fishing boat licences for these vessels will be temporarily renewed. The amendments which I will propose on Committee Stage will allow for this. In regard to fishing vessels of under 15 m in length, a code of practice on the safety of these vessels was introduced last year and new sea-fishing boat licences for vessels in this category are issued only when a declaration of compliance with the code of practice, following a survey of the vessel, is provided to the licensing authority.

Existing licensed fishing vessels have been notified that their boats must comply with the code of practice in order for their fishing boat licences to be renewed beyond 30 June this year. Given the logistics involved I consider it reasonable to allow some additional time for licensees to complete the requirements and the amendments which I will introduce on Committee Stage will enable me to do this. The revised timescales for compliance with the code of practice will be set out in an amendment to the code which maritime safety directorate will issue shortly. In the meantime, the licences of fishing vessels in this category will be temporarily renewed. I am satisfied the amendments I will introduce will provide for a more focused and clearer safety regime for sea-fishing boats.

The Department is also taking the steps necessary to develop a national hydrographic service to meet Ireland's international obligations for navigational charts in respect of Irish waters. Ireland has applied for membership of the International Hydrographic Organisation based in Monaco and expects to become a member later this year, following approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the relevant convention, pursuant to Article 29.5.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann. Membership of the International Hydrographic Organisation will provide access to valuable expertise needed to inform an optimal national strategy to provide relevant, reliable and standardised information for seas around the coast and important inland waters including the Shannon navigation system. Following two rounds of a consultation process, work is well advanced on new regulations to enhance safety standards on certain domestic passenger ships. The proposed regulations will cover such areas as watertight subdivision, provision of life-saving appliances, provision of fire-fighting equipment, emergency lighting, carriage of radio equipment and the weighing of goods vehicles.

Another initiative which is well advanced and aimed at improving safety operations of passenger boats and domestic passenger ships involves the development of regulations governing competency requirements for skippers and crews of such vessels. The competency of those in charge of vessels is just as important as ensuring the vessels they operate meet the necessary safety standards.

The Bill contains an important suite of measures to enhance public safety and enjoyment in Irish waters and to protect important heritage against damage and interference. I hope the Bill will have the desired effect of ensuring proper and safe behaviour on and with vessels generally in Irish waters and in stamping out bad behaviour by certain users of fast-powered watercraft, which is posing an unacceptable risk to the public, property and wildlife. I look forward to hearing the views of Members and passing the Bill into law at the earliest opportunity.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his very comprehensive overview. The Bill is to be broadly welcomed. It has been in the pipeline for so long that it is good to see it being considered in the House. I hope it will be implemented as quickly as possible. I welcome the amendments made to the Bill in Seanad Éireann on 20 April and the Minister of State's indication that further amendments are to be made.

Although the Bill contains certain welcome provisions, by no means does it achieve what is required. Ireland is an island nation and, as such, needs to respect the sea as well as use it to its advantage.

On the Irish national seabed survey, the Government authorised a seven-year £21 million survey of Ireland's seabed. Data acquisition began in 2000 following a year of intensive planning. Those involved are at the cutting edge in terms of realising the potential of the coastline. The Irish national seabed survey encompasses an area that is approximately ten times the size of Ireland's land area and represents one of the largest seabed-mapping projects undertaken anywhere in the world. Maps that result from the survey are a prerequisite for the policy evolution, management and sustainable development of Ireland's marine resources. The Geological Survey of Ireland is managing the survey.

Ireland's seabed area is a resource of major significance to the nation's future. The survey is the first attempt to understand this resource. Funding has been curtailed in this area in the Estimates. I had the opportunity to meet the survey team last week and was very impressed with its work and the way in which taxpayers' money has been spent. Bearing in mind that those involved have cutting-edge technology and have done a survey 700 miles from the coast, I appeal to the Minister of State to take the great opportunity that presents itself to ensure the valuable work undertaken to date is not shelved.

Given that we are an island nation, the opportunities that exist to develop the coastal communities and the fact that we are in a position to consider the development of aquaculture 100 miles off the coastline, it is critically important that the funding that has been in place since 2000 be maintained and that the seabed survey be continued.

As an island nation, we need to respect the sea. The work done to date will serve as a great asset in helping us gain an understanding of the difficulties and opportunities that arise in respect of the area encompassed by the survey, which is ten times the size of Ireland's landmass. The area represents a considerable natural resource and it is important to get the work done.

Accidents at sea and on our inland waterways have resulted in awful tragedies during the years. It is about time legislation reflected the need for provisions to prevent them. In 2003 there were 51 accidental deaths by drowning, one of which included a young boy under the age of four.

In the five years preceding 2004, 30 children were the victims of accidental drowning. We need legislation to prevent deaths in our waters; that is the bottom line. Safety should be our number one concern. This Bill addresses concerns in this area. The Minister extended provisions regarding the licensing of boats, which is to be welcomed. It represents sensible planning because there is considerable pressure regarding the timescale.

We must also appreciate that, as an island nation, we can use the sea and our waterways as an economic resource. The best way to achieve a high level of safety is through strict enforcement of the rules and regulations that govern the sector rather than through excessive regulation that may damage a vibrant marine culture.

With regard to the definition of harbour authorities and the delegation of responsibilities, it is important that inland waterways and harbours under the control of Iarnród Éireann are being included. It is important that all bodies concerned, including harbour authorities, will be subject to the same regulation. That the legislation will not just apply to coastal areas but to inland waterways represents a very good and welcome move.

While I welcome the new penalties the Bill introduces, every effort should be made to avoid needless bureaucracy and regulation. The measures are effective and simple and those in authority have the power to implement them. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of regulation and safety. However we need regulations that can be enforced instead of having too many that go unheeded.

It is vital that we actively seek to attract tourists and promote aquaculture. To do so, we must be perceived as a country with a good safety record in this area. While our safety record is not appalling, it is not exemplary. Statistics show our record to be much worse than that of the United Kingdom, which consistently tops the maritime safety table.

One death in our waters is too many. Such a death can cause inconsolable grief and heartache. One Michael Davies who turned his family tragedy into a struggle to prevent something similar happening to other families has become exhausted by his efforts to ensure Government policing of adventure centres. A Bill addressing this matter was to be signed into law but it was never done. Mr. Davies' son Ros died after a canoeing accident in 1995. He was only 14. Since his death, his father has tried constantly to get the Government to take action to prevent such tragedies from happening again. After meeting Mr. Davies in February of last year, I noted that he was quite disappointed. He should be acknowledged and applauded for his courage in bringing this issue to the fore. He reeled off a litany of bad promises on the part of the State since 1995.

Senator Finucane presented a Private Members' Bill in 1998 on activity centres which sought to regulate adventure centres providing services to minors. The then Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods, said the Government would not support the Private Members' Bill and instead would produce bigger and better legislation. Nothing happened until 2001. That year certain adventure activities in Ireland were regulated by the Adventure Activities Standards Authority. This was to be a separate body to govern adventure sports through codes of practice, regulatory schemes and a national register of operators.

It is important to know the Minister of State's intentions in this regard. I am certain he indicated that this would be a phase in many of the changes that he intends to bring in. The appalling tragedy witnessed this week in County Meath clearly indicates that one cannot act quickly enough as regards regulations and their enforcement. Any loss of life in this manner is appalling. It is therefore critical to have the Maritime Safety Bill in force. Unfortunately, it will not be enacted before September. People will need to avail of life-jackets and all other available supports during the summer months when most accidents happen. It is regrettable that the Bill will not be enacted before the summer but I know the immediate campaign planned by the Minister of State is of critical importance. People do not normally draw parallels between road accidents and those that occur among coastal communities, which can be equally as horrific.

In 2001, the then Minister for Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, said he would have this Bill up and running in eight weeks. Nothing has happened. When Deputy Dermot Ahern stepped into the role of Minister, likewise he did nothing either. Adventure centres provide activities with an element of danger, often in hostile locations, to a clientele compromising for the most part children and teenagers on school trips. The adventure centres want this authority to be established as it will have a positive effect on standards within the sector. It will give adventure centres a better name, which will further attract tourists from at home and abroad. Few people are keen to go on an adventure holiday in a country which has no regulations in place to deal with the negative sides of the industry. Considering the beautiful landscape and the wealth of waterways we have in Ireland, adventure centre holidaying could become a vibrant part of the tourism sector.

The public feels badly treated and does not deserve to be served in this way by the Government which has ignored safety issues as regards adventure centres. I am glad the Minister of State has indicated that he is looking at this area.

The authority will facilitate the creation of a register of all adventure activities in Ireland. It would involve a provision whereby any operator who knowingly gives false or misleading information to the authority for the purpose of entry in the public register will be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine and prison sentence. The proposed legislation would empower the authority to initiate an investigation into any incident or accident relating to adventure activities and to publish a special report based on this. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the law against the improper use of mechanically propelled personal water craft, jet-skis and other recreational craft of at least 2.5 m and not more than 24 m in waters in the State or the areas around it. It also seeks to update penalty provisions of certain related Acts. The proposed strengthening of the law against the improper operation of fast power water craft of the types in question in Irish waters will significantly enhance public safety and protect natural and other heritage areas. Tourism and leisure industries will benefit from the stopping of nuisances by such craft. A code of safety is critically important in this regard.

The Maritime Safety Bill will introduce a number of solid measures. It has elements which will not only enhance public safety but also provide for the care and protection of our natural heritage areas. Sections 21 and 22 complement each other, making a clear provision in legislation prohibiting persons while on board a vessel in Irish waters and Irish ships in waters anywhere from consuming alcohol or drugs or both which could endanger other persons on board or cause a nuisance. It is amazing and horrific to reflect that prior to this Bill no such provision existed to deal with this issue. A person heavily under the influence of alcohol, driving a boat on the Shannon, for example, could be the cause of a fatal accident in an area where young families frequently holiday. Fines and prison sentences will be put in place for those caught in such breaches. Spot checks will be vital in the enforcement of this provision. As with the roads, we need to be vigilant and create a culture whereby it is deemed unacceptable to be in charge of a boat when under the influence. The use of spot checks and further deterrents will be imperative.

I hope when this legislation is enacted, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, will ensure the right signals are sent out and that there will be a serious clampdown on operating boats while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Other provisions which will tie in with the issue of dangerous conduct are in sections that prohibit and penalise disruptive behaviour on vessels. We must once again look at the importance of the tourism industry. It is vital that people feel safe, not only with their own equipment, but holidaymakers must also believe dangerous behaviour from other vessels will not impinge upon them. This is how the tourism industry in this area may be grown — by ensuring better standards of safety on our waters.

Other provisions included in the Bill involve making it an offence for anyone to endanger a vessel or other persons on board. It is an offence for anybody to wilfully disrupt safety procedures on a vessel and it will be an offence to disobey instructions given to safeguard life. All these measures are subject to penalties on conviction in a court. Such penalties involve fines and possibly prison sentences. While it is important to have comprehensive legislation of this type, the enactment and operation of it, however, along with the level of financial support are paramount. Perhaps the Minister of State might indicate what level of funding is proposed and whether any financial requirement will be needed from the Exchequer to implement the Bill's provisions. Does he propose a Supplementary Estimate in line with the increased resources that are needed? It is important to know this, because everything costs money.

We need to send a clear message that those who approach our waters with the intention of being reckless towards lives and vessels will not be tolerated. Strengthening the law against the improper use of fast powered water craft in Irish waters will significantly help in the protection of natural and other heritage areas. Tourism and leisure businesses will also benefit from the stopping of nuisance by such craft but it is to be welcomed that provisions will be included in the Bill which will fill a gap in the law to protect natural heritage areas and our underwater archaeological heritage against damage or interference by high powered watercraft. This is important.

Ensuring the safety of lives is at the core of this Bill, but we must acknowledge and respect our underwater heritage which many neglect to remember. The areas around our coast contain a wealth of plant and fish life and we must come to appreciate the existence of such when we plan new legislation which affects underwater life.

Archaelogically, we must also appreciate the existence of important artefacts which may lie beneath our waters and which may be open to interference from watercraft. I am pleased that this gap in the law has been filled. I have no doubt that funding in this area, such as that for the national seabed survey, will be examined.

I note that a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months is provided for breaches of the Bill where a person crewing a vessel is found to be intoxicated. Persons convicted of recklessly endangering the safety, security or seaworthiness of those on board could face fines of up to €100,000. Such provisions are welcome. The provision whereby authorised officers can arrest a person in command of a vessel on suspicion that he or she has consumed alcohol is also welcome.

It is important that the law is enforced in that much partying can take place on leisure craft that dock in, say, towns along the River Shannon. There is an onus on the owner of a vessel to make sure that the vessel is kept in good order. The fact that spot checks can be carried out on such vessels by officers is vitally important.

The Bill, when passed, may provide for the making of regulations dealing with safety equipment which vessels must carry. There is also a measure to ensure that pleasure craft, including jet skies, do not cause a disturbance or create a nuisance. The legal requirement to have safety equipment on board in terms of the licensing of boats is important. There is also a stipulation in terms of the courses that must be undertaken by skippers. It is provided that before people can hire a boat they must have completed the necessary training. I presume they must have a licence to operate a boat and it is important that they are required to be familiar with the use of safety equipment on the vessel. People who would go out to sea daily or weekly would know how to operate all the safety equipment, but it is important that people who take a holiday on a pleasure craft or take a cruise are familiar with the flare system and that in the event of a tragedy they are able to operate the radio system. There are many risks associated with such pleasure craft and it is important people are aware of them and can cope in the event of an emergency.

It is important that there is provision for the control of jet skies. They can cause many problems in our inland and coastal waters and at seaside resorts. Control of the use of jet skies is an issue that frequently comes before local authorities. Does the Minister of State intend to delegate responsibility to local authorities in coastal communities to regulate the use of jet skies? A by-law to cover the control of their use could be introduced by regulation. Such responsibility could be delegated to local authorities which could enforce such a regulation in coastal areas such as Rosses Point, Strandhill or Enniscrone where it could be difficult for the Department to police compliance with such regulation. This Bill will strengthen the existing regulatory system with provision for on-the-sport fines and the imposition of penalties. At the point of sale of such material where boats are berthed, it is important that notice of the fine that may be incurred is displayed.

Such regulation must be kept simple for it to be effective. If there was a ten-point plan in terms of regulation, people who would hire a boat in, say, Carrick-on-Shannon would be aware that it is their responsibility to comply with those points. While television advertisements on marine safety is important, it would be a good initiative to display in all coastal communities, seaside resorts, inland waterways and marinas where people hire boats a simple code of conduct issued by the Department. That would indicate that the Government is doing its job in regard to marine safety. It cannot monitor every issue but it can set standards.

The Bill provides for the forfeiture of craft and disqualification from use by offenders. That is an important provision. While 90% of people comply with the law, it is important to occasionally prosecute people in breach of it. People often ask whether there has been a prosecution under this legislation, and on checking it I found that there has never been such a prosecution. It is important that the Minister is fair and takes a firm line. If there were one or two prosecutions on foot of the forfeiture of a craft, it would be amazing how quickly word would spread that the Government is serious about enforcing the provisions of this Bill.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to enhance public safety in terms of these amenities and protect natural and other heritage by strengthening the law. That is to be welcomed. The Minister of State knows the subject matter of this Bill very well and I am delighted he has introduced it. During his tenure, it would be welcome if he introduced one or two important Bills that would benefit future generations. In that context, we can take account of best practice in the UK and other waters. We have a rich economy where some people have money to buy leisure craft. This area is a major growth industry, particularly having regard to the development of our inland waterways, although the Minister is confined in the funding available for such development.

Such development comes down to the issue of money. When account is taken of the voted Estimate for the Department and the planned development of marinas, inland waterways and coastal communities, I realise that the Minister of State's job is difficult. The allocation for the Department is due to be discussed next week at a committee. The allocation has increased, but from a low-funded base it is difficult to bring about meaningful change in regard to the major responsibilities of the Minister of State and the demand for such change. Where there are opportunities to develop inland waterways, marinas along the coast and acquaculture, it is important to build in safety provisions. If such proposals are brought to Cabinet, it could be pointed out that they would represent value for money. It is important that when such proposals go to Cabinet there is a high expectation in respect of them.

The Minister of State was in Rosses Point last week, but unfortunately I was in Carrick-on-Shannon watching Sligo being beaten by Leitrim, otherwise I would have been there also. The marina development at Rosses Point is needed to develop its tourism potential. Boating is not an elitist sport but an activity in which a great number of people, who may travel around our coast to, say, Rosses Point, have an interest. It is regrettable that the opportunity to develop this area was lost, to a great degree, and the programme for such development was shelved by the Government with regard to the enactment of an EU co-funded scheme. Perhaps the Minister of State will indicate whether he plans to re-enact that EU scheme providing for marina development funding, which was originally approved by Europe for the possible development of marinas on the island of Ireland. Such development could link in with the tourism bodies. When talking about safety on our waters and on inland waterways, it is critical we provide amenities. I am certain there would be much appreciation for so doing. People often forget this is an island nation and the level of resources needed to fund this critical Department, particularly when one considers the various headings in the Estimate.

We should realise how critical the marine sector is to the economy. The growth in the economy has been driven by information technology but we must have a new focus over the next ten years. A natural resource such as the marine, the coastal communities and what they can offer the economy in terms of additional revenue will be substantial. The Minister of State certainly needs more resources and I am quite certain this Maritime Safety Bill will require a financial commitment. Perhaps the Minister of State might indicate whether he intends to get additional funding from the Exchequer to implement it.

I welcome the code of practice on the safety of vessels of under 15 m, which was introduced last year and the fact the new sea fishing boat licences for vessels in this category are issued only when a declaration of compliance with the code of practice, following a survey of the vessel, is provided to the licensing authority. Vessels' owners must comply with the requirements but there is a difficulty in doing so before the cut-off date in June. The Minister of State, however, has indicated that he intends to extend that period, which is important.

The Minister of State wants a more focused and clearer safety regime for sea fishing boats. It is important we encourage owners of small fishing vessels and that we do not drive them out of business. Although we see small companies, third generation businesses and families which have been fishing for generations, it is the big guys who survive. It is important regulation is fair and that support is given to families which have been fishing for generations. Certain incentives should be provided to maintain that unique culture. Over-regulation would be regrettable if it meant such fishermen had no option but to leave the industry. The Minister of State has considered the possibility of providing supports. It is important the economy does not forget that small can be profitable and that family traditions should be maintained. The Minister of State has an appreciation of that given what he has done here and by extending the timeframe within which to comply with the requirements. It is certainly welcome. I have no doubt there will be total compliance in order to obtain the necessary licences and safety equipment, which is critical. I reiterate what the Minister of State said that life jackets are critical.

I was disappointed to miss the occasion at Rosses Point. Having been there, the Minister of State will agree it is a fantastic location. It has considerable potential and I sincerely hope funding will be allocated for a marina in the future. I am delighted the Minister of State is moving with Sligo County Council in regard to Sligo Port. It is long overdue. The local authority will be obliged to take over Sligo Port. When one sees the dereliction of the port and the considerable opportunities for development, delegating the responsibility for the port to the local authority and providing concessions to private enterprise to develop what could be a major asset for Sligo is important. I hope the Minister of State will pursue it, as it has been discussed before. He should ensure the local authority takes over this statutory responsibility and prepares a business plan, which will enhance the opportunities for Sligo.

I am also delighted to welcome the Maritime Safety Bill 2004. Although I will submit some amendments on Committee Stage, I broadly welcome a Bill that deals with such an important and, unfortunately, often neglected issue as maritime safety.

The legislation builds on the consultations held by the marine safety directorate on the wearing of life jackets and personal flotation devices a few years ago. Unfortunately, as so often seems to be the case, it took a disaster, in this case the appalling Pisces tragedy in 2002, before the safety code for life jackets and safety equipment for all leisure craft was introduced by the former Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

In May 2003, I welcomed the former Minister's decision to implement the regulations under the Merchant Shipping Act 1992 requiring all passenger boats, including angling boats, to be licensed and equipped with life jackets at all times. Of course, it was only at the beginning of 2003 that the former Minister requested the owners of smaller vessels to wear life jackets at all times. Regulations were finally brought forward in 2004. I commend the former Minister on moving in this area which the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, is also doing. Both Ministers have a personal interest in maritime safety. With the introduction of this Bill, we have taken a major step forward in upgrading safety standards.

The Labour Party strongly welcomes many aspects of the Bill. We hope this will indicate a much greater commitment to furthering maritime safety and establishing the highest maritime safety standards possible, especially to eliminate the circumstances which led to the tragedies to which we have had to react in recent years.

The establishment of the system of by-laws for the regulation and control of craft has been long overdue and will enable the relevant authorities to act effectively in their region and combat reckless and dangerous maritime behaviour. It is also welcome that a generally transparent system has been established that will allow citizens to understand the procedures and practices involved and respond accordingly if they are caught up in any legal action in this regard.

The most important and welcome parts of this Bill are those that make the law more effective in dealing with the incorrect use of recreational and pleasure craft. That, of course, includes jet skis which, when used recklessly, are a scourge on our waterways and coastlines. As the Labour Party spokesperson, I have had ongoing complaints of the improper use of jet skis in many locations around the country, in particular midland lakes and important fishery rivers. The problems of improper use of such craft are many and range from fatalities to serious noise pollution and congestion of our coastline to the detriment of other water users.

I welcome the fact this Bill establishes greater powers for the relevant authorities to stop and penalise such irresponsible jet skiers and to seize relevant craft, if necessary. I further appreciate that the local or harbour authorities may now be emboldened to introduce by-laws that specifically deal with such matters in their localities and, therefore, strengthen their ability to act. It is only through strict and effective enforcement of legislation against such reckless jet ski users and users of other small pleasure craft that the coastline will become a safer place for everyone. I am very disappointed the Minister of State did not go further in regard to jet skis and set up a register of owners and users and a licensing system, as in other jurisdictions. That is a key point to which I will refer later.

The Bill strengthens the law to combat dangerous behaviour in the operation of vessels and to encourage better standards generally in the operation of all sea vessels. The need for such measures is clear when one looks at the number of incidents that the Marine Casualty Investigation Board has investigated since it was established in 2002. I have counted over 20 reports issued by the MCIB since it was set up, which were all to investigate very serious marine incidents, often involving casualties. These accidents include the terrible tragedy of the Pisces at Fethard-on-Sea, County Wexford, where five people lost their lives.

The provisions in this area legislate for the necessity of a ship's commander to ensure the vessel is seaworthy, to operate the vessel in a careful and responsible manner and to prohibit the consumption of alcohol or drugs while operating the vessel and to direct crew and passengers in a mature and conscientious way. There is also a corresponding duty on any passenger or crew member to refrain from engaging in any behaviour that might jeopardise the security or safety of anyone else aboard the ship or vessel. I have one small caveat about section 31 to which I will return later.

In this regard the proper procedures and best practice for operating and participating in any sea journey are more specifically legislated for and the Bill strengthens the powers to stop, board and inspect vessels and subsequently charge or penalise offenders. It is a worthy feature of this Bill that persons may be authorised by the Minister, especially those connected with local authorities or harbour authorities, to act for the purposes of the enforcement of this legislation. If our hard-pressed Garda resources are tied up, or a local harbour authority feels it necessary to designate specific officers to combat these problems, it is possible to do so by authorising appropriate people to do so. Sections 17 and 35 are therefore valuable additions to existing law.

While I welcome any codes of practice that advance the cause of maritime safety I wonder whether aspects of the code of practice could be more strongly enforced. This arises in regard to section 34 of Part 3 which states that codes of practice may be used in criminal proceedings. Flouting the code is not breaking the law, but elements of the code might be better legislated for to ensure that the highest safety standards possible are in place in terms of seamanship, safe operation and the prevention of pollution nuisance to other persons.

The updating of the penalties liable to be incurred for breaching maritime safety regulations is timely and essential as a deterrent to offend in this area. In this regard, however, the decision of the Minister to amend Part 5, section 47(a), of the Harbours Act 1996 to increase the maximum fine of £1,500 to €5,000 but to decrease the term of imprisonment which the court can impose from 12 to six months seems counterproductive. In all these matters a strengthening rather than a weakening of penalties is essential to improve our maritime safety record.

I broadly welcome this Bill and appreciate the legislative improvements it brings to maritime safety. Maritime history in Ireland in recent years has not been without tragedy. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources reports that more than 84 people die each year in water-related accidents. Although this includes accidents not involving mechanically propelled craft it indicates the serious level of casualties associated with a lack of maritime safety each year.

Furthermore, since 2002 the Marine Casualty Investigation Board has undertaken over 20 investigations into serious maritime incidents. Many of these accidents involved factors for which this Bill attempts to legislate. These include faulty and unseaworthy vessels, reckless behaviour aboard the vessel and alcohol consumption that caused tragic accidents.

A few omissions could be rectified or improvements introduced. A welcome development in 2002 was the establishment of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board under the aegis of the Merchant Shipping Act 2002 to investigate marine fatalities that occur in Irish waters or upon Irish registered vessels. This institution's remit is to investigate the circumstances of any such marine casualties and to recommend improvements to the Minister that might prevent similar tragic events occurring. The excellent work of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which I commend, has ensured that many lessons have been learnt and improvements made to try to improve safety at sea for all concerned.

Unfortunately, although the Marine Casualty Investigation Board was established to advise and make expert recommendations to the Government in this regard, in this Bill the Government has not gone far enough in adopting such recommendations. This is especially true in regard to the consumption of alcohol by the skippers and crew of a vessel, about which the Marine Casualty Investigation Board has made significant statements in recent reports. While the measures introduced in this Bill to deal with alcohol consumption and marine activities are most welcome, the establishment of a maximum alcohol blood level, or perhaps a total prohibition, would have immensely strengthened the legislation and incorporated the most stringent global standards to tackle this problem. As Deputy Perry said, being an island nation we should take the lead in this matter. A maritime economy could in the future be one of the strongest assets of this State.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board published a report into the collision between the yacht Debonair and the cargo ship Bluebird in 2001 in Dublin port which tragically resulted in the deaths of four people. In light of this the Marine Casualty Investigation Board recommended setting a maximum blood alcohol level for seafarers in a bid to combat vigorously the dangerous role of alcohol consumption in marine accidents. We can also recall the Marchioness tragedy on the Thames in London in which the skipper had consumed a large quantity of alcohol.

The need for firm action in this regard is reinforced by the fact that according to the Irish Water Safety organisation in 2002 alone alcohol consumption played a role in 37% of water fatalities. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board recommended adopting the standard advocated by the International Maritime Organisation of 0.08% blood alcohol level, namely, 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, as a minimum safety measure. The International Maritime Organisation in section B of the 1995 revised International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarer's, STC 78/79, called for all members to adopt this and to prohibit the consumption of alcohol four hours prior to working aboard a vessel.

This Bill deals with the criminal consumption of alcohol prior to or during the operation of a vehicle. However, if an international expert body such as the International Maritime Organisation and the Government-established Marine Casualty Investigation Board stress the worthiness of this specific measure, surely it would be appropriate to adopt it.

Section 27 lays down a prohibition on operating vessels while under the influence of alcohol or drugs but the phrase in line 43 "to such an extent as to be incapable of properly controlling or operating the vessel in carrying out the task on duty" is too vague. What does that mean? It would be a subjective judgment if the offence came to court. Who is capable of making such a judgment on which the garda or authorised persons will give evidence? I will attempt to amend this section on Committee Stage to insert a prohibition on drinking or drug-taking for people navigating or with key roles in vessels, or, failing that, to encourage the Minister to adopt the recommendations of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board which could be the objective test in establishing the capacity of a skipper or a crew member.

Two other issues arise from section 27. If there is no prohibition on drinking or drug-taking even to the drink-driving limit, how can section 27 be implemented? I cannot locate a reference in Part 2 to the use of jet skis and other small pleasure craft while under the influence of drink or drugs. Will section 27 be replicated in Part 2 on Committee Stage?

The legislation regarding personal and recreational water craft, especially jet skis, is welcome and timely. The safety of these craft is a growing problem across all Irish waterways, whether coastal or inland. There are many complaints from midland lakes and the great River Shannon. Incidents are reported from all over Ireland ranging from fatal accidents to concerns about noise pollution and congestion that such craft often cause. The report of the Irish Coastguard in 2003-04 notes that incidents involving recreational craft to which the coastguard was called have "significantly" increased in the past couple of years.

One measure that has not been introduced in this Bill but is in operation elsewhere is the requirement that all such craft be registered. In states where jet skis must be registered the obligation to display the registration number prominently increases the ability of the police to identify and apprehend any rogue or reckless users of jet skis.

In Ireland the Garda must try to identify such users from their cars parked on the shore. They often do not have the time to wait on the shore until the jet ski drivers return to land, leaving their reckless and often dangerous behaviour unchecked. In combating rogue jet ski users other jurisdictions have police operating similar crafts which facilitates the authorities in stopping them and implementing provisions similar to those in this Bill.

Due to the risks attached to jet skis some jurisdictions insist that a licence is necessary before a jet ski is put to sea. In the state of New South Wales in Australia, for example, a personal water craft driver's licence is necessary to operate a jet ski and drivers must pass a qualifying test to be issued with one. The jet ski driver must understand and, I hope, practise a minimum level of safety rules. The regulations for jet ski use in the Bill are welcome but perhaps the Minister will consider or add further steps to make it more effective and to increase the safety of all those who operate or come into contact with jet skis. I note from his speech that the Minister is beginning to set out a comprehensive programme whereby everybody in charge of pleasure craft or a vessel of any kind will have to have appropriate training as my colleague said. We need to look at that issue and, perhaps, it should be the subject of legislation in conjunction with our training agencies.

On Committee Stage we would be interested to work with the Minister to implement a system of registration and licensing of users of jet skis and other pleasure craft. With regard to the detail of the Maritime Safety Bill 2004 I welcome especially Part 6 which gives power to local authorities, harbour authorities and Waterways Ireland to make by-laws to regulate and control jet skis and other small pleasure craft. I commend especially my colleagues, Deputy O'Shea our former spokesperson and the cathaoirleach of Fingal County Council, councillor Peter Coyle, for their long-standing campaign and interest in this matter.

Deputy O'Shea has consistently raised the lack of legislation with regard to the regulation of small pleasure craft, most recently on the Order of Business a few days ago. Councillor Peter Coyle repeatedly raises the issue of jet skis in Baldoyle Bay in my constituency and the lack of any national or local legislation. Deputy O'Shea has called repeatedly for the implementation of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority Act. It is unbelievable that this Act was passed in 2001 and still there has been no establishment day. Like Deputy Perry, Deputy O'Shea has also strongly represented in the House the concerns of Mr. Michael Davies of Grantstown, County Waterford, who launched a personal campaign following a great family tragedy in this area.

In section 7 the requirement that seven days will be the minimum period for submissions to by-laws by interested parties is too short, from my experience of planning legislation, and should be extended. Perhaps the Minister will re-examine that. I welcome sections 8 and 9 which legislate for the need to cease operating such a craft when requested to do so by a Garda or authorised person and the seizure of such a craft when it is being used unreasonably or dangerously. It is also valuable that we are now closing a gap in the law in regard to the protection of national heritage areas and any underwater archaeological monuments and artefacts. That is a valuable step forward.

The provisions relating to new powers to stop and board, powers of arrest, forfeiture of craft and prohibitions from operating such craft in sections 11 to 15, inclusive, are also important and necessary. In regard to sections 16 and 42, where they amend the 1992 Act, and section 43, where it amends the 1946 Act, we will now have a system of on-the-spot fines or fixed payment notices. I add a small caveat that I hope the on-the-spot fines will not be used in substitution for the heavier and, perhaps, well deserved penalties which misusers of pleasure craft and vessels might deserve.

In regard to the welcome sections 20 to 40 on the prohibition and operation of unseaworthy vessels and codes of practice for the safety of vessels, I hope the Minister will spell out how the new codes of practice will be implemented and financed and what resources will be available in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

Recently the Irish marine register has greatly expanded through the work of the Maritime Development Agency. When I began to represent the Labour Party in this area more than two years ago we had approximately 35 vessels flying the Irish flag. I understand that at the start of this year there were 114 vessels flying our flag. How does the Minister intend to ensure this legislation will be implemented for the whole Irish fleet, given that many of the new vessels on our register, so far as I understand, have never visited Ireland having been inspected abroad by our surveyors? For example, section 26 refers to a vessel in Irish waters or an Irish ship in waters anywhere, in regard to exposing a crew to dangers through recklessness and lack of seamanship. Will the Minister ensure the Irish Maritime Development Agency will have sufficient marine surveyors to carry out this work to these new standards. I hope that day will never come. This is the concern I raised with the Minister's predecessor. I welcome the expansion of our fleet. There was also a debate in the House in regard to tonnage and so on but we did not get a chance to participate. We support any attempt to progress our marine industry. I am concerned that if a tragic incident occurred involving a ship flying the Tricolour in a distant sea, we would have responsibility for it. We must have the resources for our surveyors and our colleagues in the Civil Service to be able to do this if we are to have a much larger fleet.

I ask the Minister to look again at sections 30 and 31. Section 30 refers to disruption of safety procedures on board vessels. Some mariners may be fearful that those provisions could be used by unscrupulous employers against workers' genuine rights to good wages and conditions and against their trade union representatives. I have heard of such measures being used against trade union representatives who, when they tried to board a vessel to represent the workers, were accused of disrupting safety procedures and so on. One has only to recall the events at Normandy this week and also the ongoing difficulties for SIPTU and the international transport federation which are valiantly trying to represent workers on the Cork-Swansea ferry and which have been prevented from doing so by unscrupulous employers.

I wish to refer briefly to three other key maritime safety issues. The Minister inherited from his predecessor a policy which he has not changed, that is, the proposed closure of the Dublin marine rescue co-ordination centre. It was established in the early 1990s and employs approximately 18 people and along with Malin, in County Donegal, and Valentia, in County Kerry, it safeguards the seas of the nation. The staff do a wonderful job in co-ordinating it. Staff were shocked a couple of years ago when they heard the Dublin centre would be closed and staff would be relocated to Malin Head and Valentia. The Minister may recall I came into the House to defend Malin Head because I considered there was a need for the three stations. I still say it was wrong to close the Dublin centre as the Irish Sea is one of busiest sea lanes in the world with over 80,000 passengers and crew at sea during bank holiday weekends and huge movements of freight, including dangerous cargoes, to destinations such as Sellafield and Cumbria.

In the event of a major Irish Sea emergency, such as a pollution incident like the Prestige disaster off Galicia in Spain, the marine rescue, fire brigade, ambulance and Garda services would then only be co-ordinated from two remote ends of Ireland. That has been compared to air traffic control at Dublin Airport being run from Knock or elsewhere on the island.

In February 2005 the Minister told me that the Department was bringing together the safety services provided by the Irish Coastguard and the maritime safety directorate into a single body for greater co-ordination and more effective delivery of services, and as part of this process that, of the three marine rescue co-ordination centres one would be closed. This is a bad decision and on safety grounds I reiterate that I strongly support the retention of all three marine co-ordination centres.

The Minister mentioned that the Coastguard-Maritime Safety headquarters would be located in Drogheda, a decision I applaud, given the importance of the Irish Sea. Will the Minister take a firm decision to retain the Dublin marine rescue co-ordination centre and ensure it remains on the east coast? If not in Leeson Lane, I recommend the port of Howth as the location for that centre or failing that, Drogheda. We should have an east coast centre.

I wish to raise briefly another matter I have raised on several occasions and on which I ask the Minister to work diligently, that is, the acquisition of an emergency towing vessel for the Irish Coastguard. Prior to Christmas, the Minister addressed the incident in January 2003 in which a ro-ro passenger ferry lost engine power for 30 minutes after leaving Rosslare Harbour for Fishguard and drifted towards Tuskar Rock lighthouse. Fortunately the vessel's engine regained power one and half hours later and a disaster was narrowly avoided. We could have been here talking about a terrible disaster because we did not have an emergency towing vessel.

The Minister informed me then that the Department had been studying this matter for the past seven or eight years. In 1999 a working group in the Department recommended strongly that Ireland should have access to emergency towing vessel capacity to protect the coast from the consequences of major oil pollution and vessels in difficulties. It was also recommended that the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources consult the Department of Finance and other relevant Departments and that Ireland and the UK would consult on the possible sharing of an emergency towing vessel to cover the east coast.

Six years and several Ministers later and after several serious marine scares, we have nothing. Unfortunately it is a long time since I was in a Government and I hope the day will come that if I am lucky enough to be in the next Dáil, I will be involved in a Government and able to make things happen. Will the Minister of State demand that provision for an emergency towing vessel be included in the Estimates for 2006? The Labour Party believes the purchase of an ETV should be a priority. Will the Minister of State ensure it is included in the chapter on net capital expenditure?

The Chicoutimi tragedy showed the vulnerability of Ireland and its maritime community to a marine pollution disaster. The British Maritime Coast Guard Agency now has four emergency sea tugs on stand by, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in the Northern Isles, the Minches, the south-west approaches and the Dover Straits. The House of Commons select committee on the marine criticised the British Government for not doing more about maritime safety and the provision of stand-by vessels and Ireland has none of this system. I urge the Minister of State to ensure it is included in the Estimates for 2006.

I welcome the legislation which will establish a high safety standard and it is to be hoped that it will be a deterrent to unscrupulous users of small pleasure craft such as jet skis and people in charge of important vessels in our seas. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State in his contribution has given the House some interesting information about the development of codes of practice for recreational craft. He referred to a small vessel register and a national hydrographic service which is another important step forward. Ireland has joined the international hydrographic organisation which is commendable.

Will the Minister of State reconsider the Marine Casualty Investigation Board's recommendation on blood alcohol levels to see if the prescription in the section can be tightened? It could be complete prohibition which is perhaps desirable. It may be difficult to uphold the section's provisions in court. Will he consider taking the final decision on jet skis and consider whether there should be registration of users and a licensing system? Will the Minister of State look at section 31? The intention behind the section is good but some unscrupulous owner or skipper might try to deprive workers of their rights in the difficult maritime environment.

This is a good day for the Irish maritime community and the Minister of State is to be commended. The Labour Party supports the Bill.

I wish to share time with Deputy Cuffe. I welcome the Minister of State's Bill and congratulate him on bringing it forward. It is strong legislation and many groups are anxious to see it enacted. The Irish Water Safety Association submitted a report and much of it was adopted by the Minister of State.

The lack of regulation of recreational craft has been a problem. Local authorities have sat on the fence in this regard and by-laws have not been produced to manage the use of jet skis and other activities which have been causing trouble and conflict on lakes, rivers and beaches. People mean well but these craft can destroy the peace of an area and the introduction of regulations will help the matter. The Local Government Act 1994 empowered local authorities to produce by-laws but this was not done. This Bill will help introduce stronger legislation, standardise existing legislation and fix speed limits for water craft.

Ireland is one of the most legislated countries in the world. It is often a case of a lack of enforcement of legislation. If a law is not enforced, it is not a law worth having and the existing legislation led to very few convictions. If this legislation is not enforced, it will make very little difference in saving lives. A consultation process for those who have made submissions could be set up to enable them inform the Minister of State on the implementation of the legislation. I suggest this could be considered in future.

The United Kingdom has a very good record on water safety even with very little legislation. This is because the public has been educated in water safety. We need to improve our water safety education if young people are to avoid being drowned. The State has an obligation to ensure that legislation is enforced in a fair manner. The public must understand the law so that it is not, if the House will forgive the pun, at sea regarding regulations. I suggest a media campaign to raise awareness and schools should be properly briefed.

The primary schools aquatic scheme, PAWS, was launched in 2003 by the Irish Water Safety Association. The only funding available to the scheme was from Captain Birdseye. There is a need for support for those doing their best.

Cumann Bádóirí Acla is my local club. Bímid ag seoladh ins na yawls. Tá suim mhór againn sa gcultúr agus fresin i ngach rud a dhéanamh i gceart. We are anxious to do things properly. We have had to enforce our own standards. Nuair a thosaigh muid leis na yawls, bhí a lán daoine ag dul amach ar an fharraige agus deoch orthu. Níl sé sin ag tarlúint anois, mar chuirimid stop le rudaí mar sin mar tá dainséar mór ann. We went out of our way in the yawl movement in Cumann Bádóirí Acla to ensure the regulations were enforced and that nobody who had been drinking went on the water. Many of the sailing associations have followed their own codes of conduct. They have safety boats and rules about water safety. Insurance must be taken into account when holding festivals and everything must be done in a proper manner or the insurers will not insure the event. I welcome the Bill. The Minister of State must keep all the sailing associations on board and should engage in ongoing consultation with them.

It is important to control young people on jet skis. These can be dangerous and have caused fatalities. This relates not just to their nuisance value but also to the potential danger they can cause. That is not to say that they should not be used; they are very welcome in the appropriate setting.

The Bill caters for non-organised activities of the casual water user. With more boats on the water it makes this type of legislation essential. However, sometimes we can go overboard with legislation and the Minister of State must ensure that this is not used unfairly. The point was made earlier that these regulations could be used to discriminate against a person's crew. It needs to be carefully monitored to ensure it works fairly. We need an ongoing monitoring and consultation process to ensure that necessary changes are made.

Section 19(2)(g) states that the Minister may, by regulations, make such provision as the Minister thinks necessary and may: “regulate or prohibit the towing of anything (other than fishing nets) by or from fishing vessels or fishing vessels of a specified class.” When the weather gets rough, yachts that cannot sail back from Clare Island need to be towed back and a trawler is often used so that sailors are not left in danger of life and limb on the open Atlantic. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the section. While I may consider tabling an amendment, I will listen to the comments of the Minister of State at the conclusion of Second Stage. The Bill may contain other such provisions, which would take away from it.

While the Bill will lead to more bureaucracy, it should be implemented in a sensible and logical way without interfering with people's right to go about their business. I agree with the need to ensure that people do not go on the sea in an intoxicated condition. People should be prohibited from going out on a craft that is not seaworthy. If this happens we need a means to put this right in the interests of safety. We need to ensure that a person who operates a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs such that he or she is a danger to himself or herself and others cannot continue to do so. The waterways of Ireland and our seas need this kind of regulation and I welcome that aspect.

The new maritime safety regulations have left bad taste in the mouths of fishermen along the Mayo coast, particularly in Belmullet. While that is not what we are discussing, I ask the Minister of State to comment on it. While we all agree with the need for safety, coastal communities depend so much on angling tourism that if they are to survive changes need to be made on sea-angling regulations. In June 2003 the all-Ireland master sea boat championship could not be held as a consequence of the Merchant Shipping (Passenger Boat) Regulations 2002 and the unavailability of licensed sea angling boats. The competition is the jewel in the crown of the federation's activities in the year and was of an enormous benefit to the area from an economic, social and prestigious aspect.

Three major international sea-angling competitions take place between June and August around Belmullet, which attract up to 150 boats in each competition. In former times regular fishing craft used to take up to eight anglers to Broadhaven Bay for the competition. Commercial boats may no longer carry passengers resulting in the scaling down of the competitions that attracted so much tourism to the region. Only four vessels can now be used to ferry anglers to the competitions with the result that fewer than 40 anglers can enter the competitions. In the 30 years the competitions were held in the region no accident ever took place because the boats always departed together and sailed within a few hundred metres of each other. Each boat was required to have an angling captain and each fisherman was obliged to wear a life-jacket.

The problem relates to the availability of licensed sea-angling boats. It would be dangerous to bring in outside licensed boats with skippers who do not know uncharted local hazards. The cost would also be prohibitive as the daily charter fee would quadruple. In the past seaworthy boats were always used and carried adequate safety equipment. Complying with the rules laid down by the regulations will result in the end of sea angling in the area. The loss will be major as the estimated value of sea-angling tourism as reported by the ESRI in 1998 was approximately €40 million. While we all favour safety at sea, these regulations have a major effect on sea angling. The same applies in Mulranny where I was involved in founding the sea-angling club and where our competitions have not taken off as a result of the regulations.

Small drift and draft net fishermen are being squeezed out because of the Government's failure to buy them out. Commercial interests, including owners of rivers, are profiting greatly without any input. I welcome the Bill, which will be very important for safety at sea. Those of us involved with the sea warmly welcome the Bill, with the reservations I have pointed out. I ask the Minister of State to consider having an ongoing consultation process on the implementation of these regulations. The power of arrest of suspected offenders without warrant is a very strong power. The Bill provides that an arrest may be made by a person in uniform who is suitably trained for the purpose, following which the arrested person must be handed over to the Garda as soon as possible. The term "as soon as possible" needs to be defined. I understand that such situations may arise with no member of the Garda Síochána available to make an arrest and this allows for such an arrest to take place at sea. More safeguards are needed to ensure everything is done according to the law. I welcome the Bill with the provisos I have mentioned.

Debate adjourned.