I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 2005 deal with safety of life at sea and regulate vital maritime safety matters such as the construction, equipment and operation of ships, the radio installations, navigation and tracking systems and life-saving safety appliances to be provided as well as the issue of certificates of competency and qualification for seafarers. The Merchant Shipping Acts govern passenger and cargo ships, passenger boats, fishing vessels and leisure craft.
The Acts provide for the carrying out of surveys and inspections of ships to check for compliance with the maritime safety rules and statutory requirements. The certification of vessels that are found to be in conformity with the rules and the taking of prosecutions in respect of contravention of the rules are also covered. The Acts also provide for investigation of marine accidents. The purpose of the Merchant Shipping Acts, further augmented by the provisions in this new Bill, is to continually improve the adequacy of the maritime safety measures in national law and to give effect to the international maritime conventions on safety.
As an island, the sea is very important to Ireland, comprising an exclusive marine territory of 220 million acres, which has strategic economic, social and environmental value for the country. One of my main concerns as Minister with responsibility for maritime policy is the establishment and promotion of robust safety standards.
The sea, for all its riches and potential for development, can be one of the most hostile and dangerous environments on the planet. Consequently, safety is a vital issue for all who venture onto the water. Most particularly, safety is a vital element for those who earn their living through trade, fishing and leisure activities, in our 200 mile exclusive economic zone and further out in international waters around Ireland. My objective is to provide a safety regime with the highest standards for construction, design and operation of vessels and up-to-date safety equipment supporting skilled and competent seafarers.
I am introducing this Bill as part of a maritime safety agenda to strengthen measures already introduced under the current Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 2005. It will provide for new safety measures representing further progress on developing a modern and comprehensive legislative framework for maritime safety. I now propose to give an overview of the different policy areas of the Bill and then to set out the provisions in more detail.
The principal provisions in the Bill are being introduced to improve safety of life at sea. They will ensure that enabling provisions in relation to the making of rules and regulations for the safety of vessels will be provided to cover all relevant categories of vessels: cargo, passenger, fishing vessels and leisure craft. It is essential that the State be in a position to implement and enforce maritime safety provisions through having appropriate legislation in place. The provisions of this Bill will strengthen the statutory basis for the enforcement of our safety agenda including the strengthening of associated inspection and prosecution processes.
Another objective of the provisions contained in the Bill is to enable the further implementation of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 and its subsequent protocols, the SOLAS Safety Convention. This will facilitate Ireland in meeting safety requirements under the conventions of the International Maritime Organisation.
The Bill provides for the expansion and updating of existing provisions for the making of rules in relation to construction and survey of ships and requirements to provide radio, navigation and tracking systems. The enabling provisions for the making of rules for life-saving appliances and arrangements that have their origins in the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 are being updated and expanded. New enabling provisions are being introduced to provide for the making of cargo ship bulk carrier rules, fire protection rules and for the approval of service stations for inflatable life-saving appliances.
The Bill provides a statutory basis for enabling provisions in relation to access to passenger vessels for persons with reduced mobility. For the purposes of the Bill a "person with reduced mobility" means any person whose mobility when using transport is reduced or impaired as a result of any physical disability, sensory or locomotive, intellectual disability, age — or as a result of pregnancy or being accompanied by small children.
The current Merchant Shipping Acts do not have separate provisions for the powers and procedures for the raising of sunken vessels and the subsequent storage and disposal of such vessels. The specific proposals in the Bill will provide express and clear provisions in respect of the exercise of power to raise a sunken vessel. It also sets out the statutory procedures to apply to the raising and the bringing ashore of a sunken vessel. The new provisions are enabling only and will in no way require or imply that any sunken vessels will be raised.
The Bill also makes it clear that the ownership of a sunken vessel that is raised remains with the owner of the vessel concerned. To that end it provides that an owner may reclaim and collect his or her vessel when it is no longer required by the statutory body for the purposes for which it was raised. Where a vessel is not reclaimed and taken back into the possession of its owner, the Bill provides arrangements for its disposal.
The Bill contains provisions to give force of law to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 to ensure that the employment and social rights of seafarers on applicable Irish ships are fully implemented. An important aspect of the legislation is the creation of new offences and the setting of maximum court fines for contravention of the new rules that are included in the Bill. In addition, the Bill contains amendments to existing provisions to update the current maximum court fines for contravention of existing maritime safety rules and regulations. The updating of court fines is timely considering that the maximum levels on conviction for some offences in earlier Acts are at levels of £20, £50 and £100. These will be set at levels from €500 up to €100,000 as applicable.
The Bill also strengthens the enforcement of safety provisions through the carrying out of ship surveys, extended provisions for the inspection of ships by surveyors of ships and new provisions for the inspection by surveyors of service stations for inflatable life-saving appliances. The operation of an administrative fixed payment notice system, as an option in lieu of a court prosecution, is provided for in the enforcement of the reduced mobility regulations. Through this series of measures the provisions in the Bill will put a firmer legislative basis in place to underpin the implementation of an effective enforcement regime and ensure effective compliance programmes to meet international and national requirements. I now propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill which comprises seven parts.
Part 1, comprising sections 1 to 5, inclusive, deals with preliminary and general matters as follows. Sections 1, 2 and 3 are standard provisions relating to Title, definitions and administration expenses. Section 4 provides for prosecution of persons where an offence has been committed by a corporate body and provides that the Minister for Transport may prosecute summarily an offence under this Bill. Section 5 is a standard provision for the laying of orders, regulations and rules before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Part 2 deals with rule making and the categorisation of vessels and comprises sections 6 to 15, inclusive. These contain separate enabling provisions for the making of rules or regulations to support maritime safety and for the categorisation of vessels into classes for the purposes of each set of rules or regulations.
The rule making provisions relate to the making of construction rules for passenger ships, radio rules, cargo ship construction and survey rules, navigation and tracking rules and bulk carrier rules. The Bill also provides for the updating of the maximum level of court fines for contravention of the regulatory requirements.
Section 6 amends and updates the definition of specified terms for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952. The definition of “safety convention” is updated — this term refers to the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea and its subsequent protocols. It is usually referred to as the SOLAS safety convention.
Section 7, dealing with construction rules for passenger ships, substitutes a new section 10 in the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952 for the making of construction rules for passenger ships. The construction rules include any requirements necessary to implement the provisions of the SOLAS safety convention in respect of passenger ships. Section 8 substitutes a new section 15 in the 1952 Act for the making of radio rules. The current radio rules apply to sea-going ships registered in the State and to other sea-going ships while they are within any port in the State. The provisions in the Bill extend the application of radio rules to all ships registered in the State instead of just sea-going vessels. The inspection and enforcement powers of surveyors of ships are extended to check for compliance with radio rules. The existing maximum levels of fines for breach of radio rules are being updated in the Bill from £10, £50 and £500 to €1,000, €5,000 and €100,000, respectively.
Section 9 relates to navigation and tracking rules and substitutes a new section 18 into the Act of 1952 and introduces modern terminology. The new section 18 contains enabling powers to make navigation and tracking rules. These rules set out the navigation and tracking systems and equipment that must be provided on ships and shall include any requirements necessary to implement the provisions of the SOLAS safety convention. They will apply to all ships registered in the State and other ships while within any port in the State.
Section 10, which relates to exemptions of certain ships from certain provisions of the Act of 1952, substitutes a new section 46 into the Act of 1952 to provide that troop ships are exempt from specified provisions unless there are issues regarding the stability of such ships. The amendment in the Bill removes fishing vessels and pleasure craft from the exemption provision. Separate safety regulations or codes are now in place for such vessels. The existing standard force majeure exemption from specified regulatory requirements is retained for ships that would not be in an Irish port but for unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather.
Section 11 deals with the increase of fines etc., and updates references in the Act of 1952 to use modern terminology and expands the application of specified sections of that Act to cover fire protection rules. This provision will meet SOLAS safety convention requirements. It also updates the maximum level of fine a court may impose on conviction in respect of a range of related offences.
Section 12 relates to cargo ship construction and survey rules and amends sections 1, 3, 6 and 8 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1966. The amendment to section 1 of the 1966 Act is to update some definitions. The amendment to section 3 of that Act provides an enabling power to make construction and survey rules for cargo ships. The existing rules apply only to sea-going cargo ships and it is proposed under the Bill that these rules will apply to all Irish ships other than passenger ships, troop ships and fishing vessels. The amended section 3 will continue to apply to cargo ships not registered in the State while they are within a port in the State and are not otherwise exempt. The Bill provides that the construction and survey rules for cargo ships shall include any requirements necessary to implement the provisions of SOLAS. The amendment to section 6 of the 1966 Act updates the maximum fine, on summary conviction, for contravention of a prohibition on ships proceeding to sea without the appropriate safety certification. Section 8 of the 1966 Act sets out the offence for non-compliance with cargo ship construction rules, extends the inspection and enforcement powers of surveyors of ships and updates the maximum fine that a court may impose.
Section 13, which deals with cargo ship safety certificates, contains provision to provide for the issue of a composite cargo ship safety certificate covering safety and radio equipment and cargo ship safety construction certification.
Section 14 relates to bulk carrier rules and introduces a new power for the making of bulk carrier rules. Bulk carrier ships carry dry cargo in bulk and are a sub-set of cargo ships. The new power will provide for the making of rules to prescribe the particular requirements for superstructure, subdivision and the stability, hull, arrangement, equipment and machinery of bulk carriers. The SOLAS safety convention contains separate requirements in respect of bulk carriers so the provisions in section 14 will underpin the making of rules in respect of any requirements necessary to implement the provisions of SOLAS.
Section 15, which involves the categorisation of vessels under safety regulations, introduces enabling provisions for the categorisation of vessels under existing safety regulations.
The purpose of the amendments in the Bill to sections 18, 19 and 20 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992 are to enable the Minister for Transport to categorise vessels into different classes for the purpose of making rules and to make different rules for different classes, different circumstances and different areas of operation. New and amending enabling powers of the nature outlined provide for the categorisation of vessels into different classes. This is for the purposes of making rules or regulations in respect of construction, radio, navigation and tracking, bulk carrier, life-saving appliances and arrangements, fire protection, reduced mobility and cargo ship construction and survey. This will give a flexibility in legislation to provide targeted regulation across all vessel classes while allowing for less onerous requirements which may be appropriate for smaller vessels or for different circumstances or different areas of operation.