The purpose of this Bill is to effect some comparatively unimportant amendments in the law relating to merchant shipping. These various amendments are not related one to another and the necessity for them has arisen since the last Bill to amend the merchant shipping code was before the Oireachtas. The proposals in the Bill fall under four main headings.
In the first place, we are proposing to permit a seaman to make contributions to pension funds. Because of abuses in the past, the Merchant Shipping Acts were framed so as to make it illegal for a seaman to agree to have any portion of his wages deducted in advance for any purpose. We are proposing to limit that restriction so as to enable an officer on a ship to agree to a deduction from his wages for the purpose of making a contribution to a pension fund. The law has already been amended in that respect in Great Britain and it is in the interests of our sailors that the same change should be made here, so that officers employed on Irish ships can continue their contributions to the pensions fund of which they are members and not be subject to any disadvantage in that respect.
The second proposal in the Bill relates to the penalties for overloading of ships. Under an Act passed here in 1933, it is an offence to take an overloaded ship to sea. Under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, it is an offence to take a ship to sea in an unseaworthy state. It has always been assumed that the taking of an overloaded ship to sea would be taking it to sea in an unseaworthy state. A decision of a British court has, however, disturbed that assumption. The British court decided, in so far as the law in Great Britain was concerned that it was not an offence punishable by fine to take an overloaded ship to sea. We are proposing to amend the law to ensure that the taking of an overloaded ship to sea will be an offence.
The third proposal relates to the making of regulations regarding the carrying of life-saving apparatus on fishing boats. It is proposed that fishing boats should be brought within the scope of the rules under Section 427 of the main Act. That is the section which relates to the carrying of life-saving apparatus. Under this Bill, it is proposed that these rules shall apply to fishing boats in the same way as they apply to other vessels.
The fourth proposal in the Bill deals with the limitation upon the fees which can be charged for surveys and other services under the Merchant Shipping Acts. It is proposed that these may be increased. The fees have not been increased here since 1922. They have been increased elsewhere, particularly in Great Britain. We think it desirable that the fees here should be the same as in Great Britain and we propose to amend the law to permit of a new scale of fees being made by regulation. These are the four purposes for which the Bill has been framed.