Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is a very important one, which provides for two major elements of my strategy to enhance safety standards throughout the seafaring community. The Bill has four separate strands: one, the enactment of a new legislative regime to regulate marine casualty investigation; two, 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 recreational craft, including jet skis and fast power craft; three, provision for a technical amendment to the Sea Pollution Act, 1991, which provides clarification on the definition of maritime causalities in that Act; and four, provision to allow the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to advance moneys for the purposes of marine and natural resource based tourism and heritage projects.

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 this 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 investigation 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 persons 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 marine casualties involving Irish vessels wherever they occur for the purpose of establishing the cause of the casualty and to make recommendations on 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.

Coming as I do from a coastal county, I am only too well aware that the maritime area can sometimes be a dangerous one, and the investigation of accidents is an important necessity that must have regard to delicate and very sensitive issues from human, legal and technical perspectives. 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.

Concerns have been expressed within the maritime community and by the public in general about the way in which marine accidents are investigated by my Department. These concerns were first raised as far back as 1992 when my Department identified and acknowledged the major gap that existed between what the current system provides and what the public expect, particularly when it comes to the publication of reports. It was clear even then that the carrying out of casualty investigations behind closed doors and non-publication of reports was proving to be unacceptable. This view has been strengthened by experience since then, which has shown that an enhanced statutory basis is essential to ensure fair and timely publication of marine casualty reports.

Despite endeavouring since 1992 to conduct investigations into marine casualties in a more open manner, my Department has continued to encounter difficulties 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 occurring in the publication of reports and I fully appreciate these delays are a cause of great concern to them.

It was against this background that the importance of tackling this issue was addressed by my Department in November 1996 when a high level review group was established to examine the existing policy, procedures and legislative framework for maritime casualty investigation in Ireland and to make recommendations.

The policy review 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 persons 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 as to 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.

Given that the task set for the review group was nothing less than a fundamental overhaul of the Irish marine casualty investigation system, it was, therefore, essential that the wide range of complex, varied and sensitive issues involved receive the fullest and most comprehensive consideration.

The review group met frequently over a period of 18 months or so and also 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, the US and New Zealand. The policy 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 concerning communication with bereaved families, the industry, media and other State agencies should become more sensitive, clear and useful.

The policy review group concluded its work in June 1998 and its report was published in September that year. In its report, the review group made 39 recommendations to improve the system of casualty investigations in Ireland. The key recommendations were the establishment of an independent marine casualty investigation board with enhanced powers to investigate marine casualties in Ireland, 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 and that all reports into casualties should be published within a specified timeframe.

I am confident the review group, in its work, has helped us to identify a new system of investigation which is in accordance with the highest international practice and 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. 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 investigations are necessary, who will conduct them and that a report of the investigation will be published within a specified timeframe.

The number of tragedies in recent years, particularly involving fishing vessels, is a major concern to us all. 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. It is for this reason that I consider there is an urgent need to establish the marine casualty investigation board as a specific part of my strategy to enhance safety standards throughout the seafaring community. In overall safety terms, the establishment of this board 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 wish to deal with the main provisions in the Bill. First and foremost, the Bill provides for the establishment of a legally independent marine casualty investigation board as recommended by the policy review group. The board will comprise three persons appointed by me, as Minister, as well as the chief surveyor of the Marine Survey Office and the Secretary General of my Department, or his or her nominee – in total a board of five persons. The board will, therefore, have a majority of members from outside the Department and the Bill requires that the chairperson and deputy chairperson be appointed by the Minister from the three members appointed from outside. The model for the composition and independence of the board follows closely on 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 sur veyors would be entirely separate from the Department.

However, I recognise that there may be circumstances where it may be more appropriate, or even desirable in the interests of promoting a more open approach, for an investigation to be carried out by persons from outside the Department. In this regard, the Bill also makes provision for the engagement by the board of consultants, advisers and investigators for marine casualties as necessary so as 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 a comprehensive set of specific powers to conduct investigations and provides penalties for persons who fail to provide information or records to the investigator. These powers, many of which were recommended by the policy review group and which are now being provided for, are broadly in line with those available to marine casualty investigators in other countries and in most cases are similar to powers available to inspectors carrying out investigations into aviation accidents in Ireland.

While some of the powers provided for in the Bill, such as the testing for intoxicants in the aftermath of a marine casualty, were not previously available under the regulatory regime for marine casualty investigation in this country, I believe that they are fair, reasonable and warranted to ensure that a full and comprehensive investigation can be carried out into any marine casualty that occurs.

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 recurrence of similar casualties. The group further recommended that the purpose of an investigation should not be to apportion blame or liability and both of these principles are 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. It also 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 commenced, or as soon as 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 clear 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 for the avoidance of 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.

Senators will agree that the timeframes for publication specified in the Bill will lead to a huge improvement over the current situation 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, my Department has published a number of reports of marine casualty investigations and in doing so 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 much strengthened in the Bill which provides that such persons 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.

There are a number of investigations which are ongoing in my Department and a number of other reports which are being processed for publication in consultation with the Attorney General's office. The Bill provides for the marine casualty investigation board to complete any investigations which are still 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 be no 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 recreational craft, including jet skis and fast power craft, as recommended in the final 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 to make, by way of regulations, provisions for the safety of pleasure craft and their occupants. It was under this section that the Merchant Shipping (Jet Skis and Fast Power Boat) Regulations, 1992, were introduced 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, the Office of the Attorney General has advised that the regulations are now considered to be legally unsound and do not provide the scope of what most local authority proposals seek to achieve. As a result, further processing of designation proposals had to be suspended by my Department. In addition, because of the limitations in the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, 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 powers of the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources.

The Government has been conscious of the widespread concerns 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, an initiative was taken in August 1999 to establish a broadly representative action group to address this important matter, especially in light of a number of serious accidents and, indeed, fatalities involving jet skis and fast craft.

Following the tragic accident off Dunany Point, County Louth, last year where four persons, including two children, tragically lost their lives, Government approval was secured to include the drawing up of a safety policy for small powered leisure craft within the terms of reference of the action group. The central aim in setting up this action group was 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. The action group was asked to carry out a comprehensive review of the safe use of personal recreational water craft and to consider measures which will be effective, sensible and enforceable and also which will be instrumental in introducing a shift in the culture towards safety as the overriding consideration. This they have done in their final report.

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 at an initial phase in the consultative process undertaken by the action group on small powered recreational craft. This consultative process formed a key element in the work of the action group and has been absolutely 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.

I have already publicly welcomed the general thrust and content of the final report and, in particular, the conclusion that there is a strong case to support and extend, as the primary public policy response to these issues, the use of local by-laws to regulate the use of recreational craft, including jet skis and fast power craft; 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 to put in place measures and capacities which will persuade and allow users of such crafts to attain levels of competence and training which are necessary to deliver responsible use of those craft.

The amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, provided for in this Bill, has been designed to provide the legislative framework as recommended by the action group. The draft, set out in the original published Bill, was examined by the action group and suggestions made to improve the text. As a result the text was strengthened at Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann to reflect more accurately the findings and recommendations of the action group. In particular, the text has been amended to reflect the fact that the term "recreational craft" as used by the action group covers both pleasure craft, that is, non-commercial vessels, and passenger boats, which are defined as commercial vessels carrying 12 or fewer persons in the original 1992 Act. These two types of vessels are treated separately under that Act and thus many of the changes now being pro posed have been replicated under their respective headings to ensure a consistent approach.

As a result of the powers being laid down in this Bill, I as Minister will be empowered to regulate for the safety of recreational 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 recreational craft. The amendment in the Bill also enables me, as 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 involved in water-based activities. I especially welcome the recommendations which they have 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.

Following on the enactment of this legislation, I hope to see the speedy introduction of implementing regulations based on the recommendations of the action group's final report. I assure the House that I will do all in my power to see that implementation occurs without delay. These regulations, allied to the recently launched Year 2000 Safety on the Water campaign, will contribute to an increase in safety in the water-based leisure sector and a resultant decrease in the emergency calls received by the emergency services in future. 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. I look forward to our continuing to work together to achieve the highest safety standards possible.

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.

The fourth and final part of the Bill concerns provision for the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to make advances for marine and natural resource based tourism and heritage projects. On 22 February 2000, the Government agreed the funding of the Dunbrody famine ship project to completion, subject to a number of conditions. However, doubts were raised by the Attorney General's office regarding the powers of the Minister to make grants or loans for this or similar purposes. A similar situation has arisen with regard to the future expenditure of moneys already allocated to natural resource heritage projects, and possibly to moneys already allocated to marine-based tourism projects under the national development plan, where a total of £20 million has been allocated over the period of the plan. In order to clarify the position and to ensure that any lingering doubts are removed, this amendment was introduced at Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann and accepted by that committee.

This legislation is vital 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; 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; and to clarify the position regarding payment of advances for marine and natural resource based tourism and heritage projects.

I wish to emphasis what I said in regard to safety. From my short experience since I became Minister, there is no doubt that no matter what legislation we put in place and efforts we make, the first responsibility of people is their safety. It is clear from the information we receive from the coastguard and rescue services that people are prepared to take risks and be careless and irresponsible with their lives. I appeal to people, during this summer, to be especially careful and not to take the kind of silly risks we see being taken every day. There are many injuries and lives are being lost because people are careless and are not prepared to look after their safety. I appeal to people to be careful about their safety. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House to deal with this important legislation, technical as it is in many respects. I commend him for outlining the Bill in such detail – one could refer to the many items with which he dealt. The main purpose of this legislation is to set up the marine casualty investigation board. However, the Minister could have gone further in dealing with wider issues relating to marine safety, particularly harbours. There are many small harbour boards which are practically defunct and no one is sure of their functions and legal status.

Ballina is a small port which is not operational at present, except for some entrepreneurs who ventured to bring in some coal last year. They had immense difficulties with the harbour board regarding the channel, insurance and liability at the quayside. It took two weeks to iron out all these problems. The local authority had to identify who was responsible in many areas but it eventually solved the problem. The Minister could have provided for this type of situation which I am sure is replicated throughout the country.

Small commercial coasters, as they were known, are now nearly obsolete. Nevertheless, they are still a viable means of transporting goods and materials. Some people use small harbours to avail of the services. They find there is no legislative framework in place through which they can operate successfully. This was borne out by the incident in Ballina a year and a half ago where the ship was moored in the bay for nearly a week. This cost an enormous amount of money and no one had responsibility for the problems relating to its docking.

There is an attempt in the Bill to legislate for pleasure craft. The Minister admitted he has come up against a stone wall in relation to this matter. It seems to have been left to local authorities to introduce by-laws to regulate pleasure craft and jet skis, which are an increasing menace in our waters. There does not seem to be adequate legislation to control this. Local authorities do not have the manpower to supervise it, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when local authority staff are not at work. There is no point in enacting by-laws if there is no one to supervise their implementation.

Beach guards sometimes have very little to do – and I hope they will have nothing to do over the next few months – and they could keep an eye on those operations. A very small minority of people violate our waters in that way. Our beach guards could fulfil a role in that regard, especially as they are appointed and paid by local authorities. I see an extended role for them in that area, given that the Minister does not have concrete legislative proposals in place to deal with it.

The fourth provision to which the Minister referred relates to the £20 million development plan for marine and natural resource based tourism and heritage projects. The Minister described it as a minor strand in the Bill, but I think it could be one of the major strands because there is so much we could do with our natural history and heritage projects. Many opportunities exist for the development of tourism-related heritage projects around our coastline. The sum of £20 million is a small amount when viewed in a national context. Mayo, given its coastline, could utilise the full £20 million on its own. I am sure the Minister will not look unfavourably on Mayo when we send in proposals for this type of project.

If the Senator could suggest one to me now I would be interested in hearing about it.

I can. I compliment the Minister on including that in the Bill because it is very necessary. A dramatic increase in the fund would have a correspondingly dramatic effect on tourism and heritage projects throughout the country.

Marine casualties have always been a serious problem. It is unusual that the legislation to deal with the necessary investigations dates back to 1894. Reports were published subsequently dealing with marine casualties. Given the current level of commercial and pleasure activity on all our waters, it is natural to assume the level of accidents will increase because there is always a correlation between levels of activity and accident rates.

Enterprise Oil hopes to bring the major gas find ashore at Achill Island. This will involve investment of £500 million and all types of marine activity related to getting the gas ashore. That will, inevitably, lead to the possibility of pollution and other accidents. It is important for this Bill to be enacted as soon as possible to deal with the increasing level of activity and the consequent increased accident rate.

Pollution can pose an enormous cost to the State. There is no provision in the Bill for preventing pollution or for dealing with pollution caused by a major accident off our coastline. Local authorities should be given more resources to deal with offshore emergencies. Mayo County Council and the other maritime counties do not even have a tug they can put out. Some of the aforementioned harbour boards have tugs that are not operational. The Minister should look at that area. Local authorities have a certain function in trying to ensure our waters are kept pollution free but they do not have the resources to do this if an accident occurs off the coast. I know we have a national service that springs into action if there is a major catastrophe. Nevertheless, local authorities should be given more power and money to deal with such incidents. Perhaps a specific area within each local authority could look at all the related possibilities.

Some of the recommendations of the review group which preceded this Bill should be taken on board, for example, the recommendation in relation to timespan. It is seven years before someone lost at sea is presumed dead. This causes a lot of distress and hardship for bereaved families. It is ridiculous that, where the evidence suggests a certain number of people were lost, they are not officially presumed dead for another seven years. The legal implications of that, particularly in regard to estates, should be looked at in the Bill as it causes anxiety for bereaved families.

I referred to jet skis and pleasure craft. The number of people involved in this activity is relatively small. I know of nothing to prevent people taking their lives into their own hands at sea, disregarding basic requirements of safety. There is not enough emphasis on safety at sea. The Department of the Marine could do more to advise young people in particular of the dangers involved in using pleasure craft. We have all taken risks at sea. That is true even of my limited experience at sea, but I did not realise the risks I was taking until afterwards. That is the problem for many people who are not familiar with the dangers of the sea. The Department could do a better job of educating people about what they should or should not wear at sea, the type of craft they should use and so on. We must also welcome the fact that courses are run by many different groups to educate young sailors. This creates greater awareness of safety among seafarers and is to be commended.

Operators of smaller commercial boats have been notorious for taking risks, possibly due to their familiarity with the sea. Many of them cannot even swim. Many people have been lost off the north-western coast as a result of nothing more than carelessness and a lack of knowledge of safety procedures. The number of people who have been lost is most regrettable. Smaller commercial fleets are not prospering. They must try to get by with antiquated equipment and boats that are no more than seaworthy. This legislation, which seeks to prevent this situation, should be encouraged.

The Bill is essentially technical in that its main purpose is to set up this board, which will deal with marine tragedies. I hope it will not have too much work to do. Safety must be emphasised if we are to reduce its workload. The Bill deals with the end result when a catastrophe happens. We should focus more on preventing such catastrophes, as the history of recent accidents suggests that most of them were caused by human error. A minority could be blamed on faulty equipment, but human error was the main cause.

I welcome the Bill. It might have been wider in scope and dealt with other issues, but the Minister may have other legislation in the pipeline to deal with other aspects of seafaring. It is a major industry and deserves to have all the legislative procedures in place to deal with any eventuality. From that perspective I welcome the main thrust of the Bill, which is to set up the marine casualty investigation board. What could be regarded as the lesser aspect of the Bill could become more important if it is developed further. Perhaps funding will be extended. I look forward to the Minister's comments in this regard.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on the work he has done in his short period in office. He was prepared to make many amendments to the Bill once he received the report of the policy group to improve the legislation regarding safety at sea. The Minister has a hands-on approach to the review of the CFP. I was in Sweden for the past three days at a political bureau meeting of the CMPR and I was delighted to raise issues based on the Minister's discussions with the Council of Ministers and the task force report. I received full support from our friends in the Shetland Islands on the importance of the fishing industry to peripheral nations like Ireland and my county in particular.

I welcome the Bill as I come from a coastal county where many people depend on the sea. Any legislation designed to improve safety at sea, in beaches and in harbours is welcome. We have suffered many tragedies in west Donegal and Inishowen due to the power of the sea. Many of those tragedies were never explained and the reports carried out were never made public. I remember particularly the loss of the Evelyn Marie and the Carrick Una off Rathlin O Beirne. Many fine young men personally known to me lost their lives when both vessels foundered off that rock 25 years ago. The communities and families grieved for years. Publication of the report on the tragedies would have been some consolation and would have helped greatly in ensuring later tragedies were avoided.

In recent years the loss of the Carrickatine off the north Inishowen coast left six young men unaccounted for and there was no explanation of the cause or location of the accident. There have been many similar tragedies where individuals have been lost at sea or in harbours, the latest incident being the tragedy off Rosbeg, in the Portnoo area, where two pot fishermen lost their lives. Donegal has a long and rugged coastline with many fine beaches and harbours that host many marine activities such as fishing, swimming, sailing and power boating. In recent years jetskiing has been added to those activities. Donegal County Council has made great efforts to ensure safety by curtailing the use of beaches for car rallying and power buggies. This legislation will ensure the safety both of the users of leisure craft and the general public using the beaches.

Marine leisure is being encouraged by the Department and will be a huge factor in the promotion and growth of tourism in Donegal in the future. I am delighted, therefore, that this much needed legislation is being introduced. Reports in today's newspapers indicate that Donegal has 11 blue flag beaches with the possibility of Ballyherin beach in Fanad being included next year as well as the possible reinstatement of Downings. One can see, therefore, the importance of this Bill.

I have no reservations about my local authority in this regard. It has been proactive in enforcing by-laws and so forth to ensure the safety of the public. That is indicated by the number of blue flag beaches Donegal has retained. Indeed, any losses were not due to safety factors but to the quality of water, a factor outside the Minister's control but probably within the remit of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Many of the losses announced today were due to quality for bathing and uncontrolled motoring on beaches. Happily, my local authority has controlled motoring on beaches and, with this legislation, will be able to control the use of power craft and jet skis on the sea.

The Bill is the result of two reports prepared for the former Minister, the second of which was presented in March 2000 – the report of the marine casualties policy review group and the final report of the action group on small powered recreational craft. The Bill has four elements. The first is provision of a new legislative regime to regulate marine casualty investigation in Ireland and the improvement of previous legislation in that regard. The second is the amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, in relation to the use of modern leisure craft, including jet skis and fast power craft. The third is the amendment of the Sea Pollution Act, 1991, to provide clarification of the definition of maritime casualties in that Act and the fourth, which was added on Committee Stage in the Dáil, is to provide in legislation for advances by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to tourism based or heritage projects.

There will be major improvements in the law governing the investigation of marine casualties as a result of this legislation. It provides for the establishment of the independent marine casualty board and the appointment of marine casualty investigators. While the 1992 legislation provided for the publication of reports, many have been slow in reaching publication and in reaching conclusions. This Bill will ensure that an interim report will be published within nine months if the full report cannot be completed.

The marine casualty policy review group made many recommendations which are included in the Bill. They include the marine casualty investigation board, the publishing of reports and laying down specific timetables for the investigation and publication processes. The purpose of the marine casualty investigation board is to determine the cause of the casualty to ensure that similar events do not recur. However, the purpose of the investigation process is not to foster recrimination or to apportion blame. The enactment of this legislation and the procedural regime to regulate marine casualty investigations will replace the existing regime which is based on an Act passed more that 100 years ago.

There has been widespread concern in recent years about the safe use of recreational craft, especially jet skis and other power craft. The amendments made by the select committee have strengthened the Bill immensely in this area. The 1894 Act governing marine casualties has served us well but it requires modernisation. A more open approach to investigation is demanded by modern society. A reporting system is needed which meets the needs and expectations of the public, particularly the bereaved families who have suffered so greatly as a result of maritime tragedies.

In recent years, investigations have been set up more speedily and have been conducted in an open manner. However, we have had to wait for long periods for the publication of reports. The delays have caused great distress to many families, especially where the bodies of loved ones have not been found. The families suffer on two fronts – the unknown location of loved ones and the unknown cause of the tragedy. Establishing the facts behind a tragedy can be a comfort in difficult times for bereaved families. The Bill imposes a legal obligation to have a report published within nine months or, if there are unforeseen delays, to publish an interim report. It is the main objective of an investigation to establish the cause of casualties at sea and to make recommendations on measures to avoid a recurrence.

Many good things have come from sea tragedies. The loss of a friend of mine, John Oglesby, off the County Mayo coast led to the establish ment of the marine search and rescue unit based originally at Fanad in Bundoran. We should also bear in mind the unfortunate loss of the four Air Corps pilots on the Waterford coast. A report on that incident was published during the past week. As was evident in that case, these men take great risks with their lives to assist the public. Many of the tasks they are called to deal with are the result of negligence and people not taking precautions in the first instance.

The unfortunate loss of Tim Currid from Wexford in the Scarlet Buccaneer off Howth in November 1995, in which case it took more than three years to publish the report, gave his widow Carmel the courage to set up the LOST organisation to comfort families and friends of lost fishermen. The loss a year ago of two people I knew well, Michael Jack Boyle and Thomas Moore, off Rosbeg and the unfortunate loss of the Carrickatine led to the Department's regulation that beacons should be carried on all craft so locations can be established quickly.

Unfortunately, the delays in publishing reports, such as the report on the Carrickatine, cause great distress to families. The establishment of the independent board with the necessary powers to investigate fully the cause of marine tragedies will ensure that the lessons from those tragedies can be used to avoid similar accidents in the future.

Many amendments were made to the Bill on Committee Stage. Section 2 relates to the definition of a marine casualty. That definition is widened to include the causes of collisions. It also includes the recommendation of the policy review group that the new board should investigate casualties involving Irish vessels anywhere or vessels in Irish waters. This is what takes place in other jurisdictions. Events might occur outside our territorial waters involving Irish or Irish registered vessels the results of which might adversely affect our national interest. The amendment gives the board the ability to make inquiries into such accidents and gives it statutory powers to carry out an investigation, particularly if the flag state of the vessels request it.

The board may investigate marine casualties which involve non-Irish vessels in non-Irish waters. It may also investigate an accident involving a foreign registered vessel carrying Irish nationals outside our territorial waters. It may investigate accidents involving a foreign flagged vessel in the Irish sea area at the behest of another maritime administration. While it is not included in this legislation, I am glad that the Freedom of Information Act will allow the release of information in relation to the operation of the board.

An amendment to section 23 widens the scope of the section to oblige the skipper or person in charge to report marine casualties. Possibly the most important elements of the Bill are sections 27, 28 and 29. They are more substantial and specific in relation to the powers being conveyed to the investigators. These powers are now more strongly outlined in the Bill following Committee Stage. The Bill as drafted gave the powers by statutory regulation. Many of the powers were recommended by the policy review group.

It is vital that those carrying out marine casualty investigations are provided with the necessary powers to carry them out and that these powers are strong, precise and transparent. Investigators will be empowered to carry out a search of any place, premises or means of transport including a vessel, to remove any object considered relevant to the investigation, to carry out tests on that object, to gather evidence in various ways and, perhaps most importantly, to have unhampered access to any vessel or wreckage and control over the scene of a maritime casualty to ensure the investigation can be conducted without hindrance.

Section 28 gives investigators the necessary powers to compel witnesses to answer questions and provide information. Section 44 strengthens the Bill. It proposes many amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act. These were tabled on Committee Stage and put in place more structured legislation to allow for compliance with clear regulations for the safe use of recreational craft. They include many of the changes recommended by the action group on small powered recreational craft which presented its final report since the original Bill was debated in the other House in January. They addressed the various types of recreational craft and recommended legislation rather than regulation to cover both the safety of craft and property affected by the use of craft, together with disturbance and nuisance caused by craft. The Bill deals with the issue of age, elements for using craft and the use of lifejackets. Coming from a seafaring community, it is terrible to see the number of people not wearing lifejackets on craft leaving port, particularly in the leisure area. There are no lifejackets on most of the vessels.

While the Bill tries to ensure safety, the best way to ensure this is through education. I visited an island community in Sweden last week where there is great activity in marine leisure, particularly sailing and powered craft. Within the harbours in that region, separate areas are set aside for young people. There are smaller boats to enable them to train and operate craft at sea. I always thought marine craft such as yachts and boats were the brief of southern Spain. However, I was amazed at what is happening in Sweden and the way in which the islands have developed their harbours and so on. The most important aspect was that of safety and the training of young people.

The Minister's Department has made great strides through the white fleet renewal scheme and the training of crew members. While there are many trained and experienced fishermen in coastal communities, many older people received training which was passed on by previous generations. Unfortunately, many younger people going to sea nowadays are not properly trained. This is another important aspect which the Department has tackled. The Bill covers aspects such as investigations into sea tragedies and the recent phenomenon of huge increases in sales of pleasure craft such as jet skis. Something has to be done and I am sure improvements will be needed in the future. Many of the improvements made on Committee Stage in the Dáil will make the legislation much more powerful. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I wish to make a brief contribution on the Bill, primarily concerning the use of jet skis and powered craft on inland waterways. I speak as a game angler who has fished the midland and big western lakes and has seen what is happening. Anyone who has any interest in marine issues will welcome this legislation, particularly the fact that proper investigating procedures will be initiated in relation to marine casualties. I hope instances such as that mentioned earlier by Senator Bonner will be dealt with effectively and speedily and that the bereaved will be enabled to get on with their lives as best they can. I am sure this is the priority of the legislation.

I commend the Minister and his predecessor on the legislation relating to inland fisheries, arrangements for the fisheries boards and so on. Last Sunday and Monday I was on the lake in Furnace in Mayo. It was encouraging to see the work being done by the Marine Institute in developing runs of spring salmon and so on. Dr. Ken Whelan and others who have worked in the area for many years have done very valuable work.

My one outstanding request to the Minister would be to do whatever he can to restore the primacy of sea trout fisheries in his constituency and around the west coast generally because what has happened in this area is appalling. I understand there are various interests at stake but, from an environmental point of view, this should not have happened, just as the pollution of the midland lakes should not have happened. Some of this was quite deliberate and I hope the Minister will take decisive action in the matter. Many pollution matters are primarily the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, but the powers under the fisheries Acts should be used. The fisheries boards are quite vigilant for which I applaud them but at times they are fighting a very unequal battle.

Senator Glynn raised the issue of jet skis on several occasions on the Order of Business. I have fished a lot on Lough Ennel and Lough Owel and, from the perspective of a game angler, there is plenty of room on all those lakes for people to enjoy themselves in whatever water sport they choose. I do not think this is the issue. The issue is that these people disrupt the enjoyment of everyone else. The legislation refers to disturbance and nuisance and I hope this will be dealt with decisively. There should be designated areas and zones. The Minister referred to the zones created by some of the coastal authorities. Local authorities in the midland areas must use their powers. The problem is not as great on Lough Conn, Lough Corrib and Lough Measc.

I believe in devolving power to local authorities but it frequently seems to be the case – I speak as a member of a local authority – that members will not use these devolved powers. This is regrettable because there are some hard decisions to be made. These decisions should be made not just in the interests of safety but because there is an environmental dimension to this. The mud at the bottom of the lake is where the mayfly come from, but these high powered boats go out on very shallow water and disturb the mud which can cause serious environmental damage. This, of course, is infinitely secondary compared to the possibility that some accident could take place or that there could be a serious incident. There is every possibility of such an incident taking place because certain individuals go out more to disrupt other people's enjoyment than to enjoy themselves. It is from this they seem to derive their enjoyment.

I am pleased the issues of personal water craft, disturbance, nuisance and lifejackets for pleasure craft come within the scope of the Bill. It is my experience over 25 years of going out in boats on big lakes that only very recently have the majority of game anglers begun to wear life preservers or lifejackets. High profile competitions take place on these lakes. The literature produced by the organisers advises people to wear life jackets, but that cannot really be enforced if somebody is cavalier enough to disregard the advice. I commend the Minister for the appeal he made at the end of his Second Stage speech regarding personal safety and the need to be careful over the summer months, but there are people who will disregard the advice.

This leads me to the issue of enforcement. Legislation of this nature is well intended and we all hope it will have the desired effect, but unless there is follow-up enforcement some people will disregard the law and I wonder what we can do in such circumstances. Litter wardens employed by local authorities, who have been quite successful, provide a model which serves as an example of how to deal with this issue. The wardens have not solved the litter problem – it would be unrealistic to expect that – but they have been active in ensuring the law is complied with. I appreciate that wardens for our waterways would involve a cost, but perhaps it could be done on a part-time basis by some local authority staff over the relevant months.

It is quite extraordinary that the owner of a motorcycle must have a licence while a machine which is almost as high powered can be used on a lake or at sea without any such requirement. In other words a person can launch a vessel and operate it at high speed with more disregard than a motorcyclist for other people's safety without any licensing restriction. Some people will ignore appeals from the Minister and in certain circumstances will also ignore legislation. The issue of by-laws is relevant, because while a local authority may have power there seems to be a reluctance by some authorities to intervene to sort out such issues.

Lough Owel, a premier game fishery, provides a very good example of how different sports can exist side by side. There is a sailing club at one end of the lake while fishing boats go out from an adjacent place and there is never a difficulty. The people from the sailing club remain within a certain area and I have never seen a sailing boat go to the far end of the lake. Obviously, sailing boats are much less disruptive in their effect on angling compared to jet skis, but it seems possible for the various sports to live together quite comfortably and I think lessons can be learned from it.

The Minister is correct to say that, ultimately, people are responsible for their own safety and I suppose only so much can be done to ensure people have due regard for their own safety and that of others.

In terms of pleasure craft I note jet skis fall into the less than four meters category. I am not saying there should be a huge degree of regulation for lake boats, but it can happen that a visiting angler will rent a boat on Lough Corrib, for example, and 200 yards off shore will discover it is leaking. The owner of the boat may not be aware of the leak as it may have been damaged the previous day by somebody who took it out and did not report the damage. There are certain risks. It is not a significant problem for those who are experienced as they would know how to deal with such a situation, but there is a potential for disaster and I wonder to what extent the State can intervene. Even if there was legislation I wonder to what extent it would be possible to enforce it.

With regard to reporting incidents, it seems extraordinary, from the perspective of a person living in the midlands, that certain animal diseases must be reported to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, while up to now there has been no need to report a casualty in this context.

I commend what the Department is doing in terms of inland fisheries and am glad of the development which is taking place. The State is now managing some of the prime fisheries extremely well. The Errif fishery has been transferred from the central to the regional board and is an example of how well the State can manage a fishery. It is a prime salmon fishery in a marvellous location and a premier tourism asset. It is well managed, as is the ridge pool and the fishery in Furnace. The officials are doing a very good job. It is a pleasure to fish in these places and I am sure tourists will continue to return because of the quality of the sport and the welcome they receive.

I thank Senators who contributed and we take on board many of the points made. Much of what has been said is an endorsement of many of the provisions in the Bill.

I wish to briefly refer to a few points which were made. The harbours are not affected by the Bill – they are dealt with in other legislation. Local authorities will be empowered to appoint authorised officers, even if not directly employed by the authorities, to act as policemen to ensure regulations are put in place. They can include life guards or any other full-time or part-time employees. Clearly, employees of fisheries boards, harbour commissioners and others involved in the sector can be authorised to carry out a monitoring and policing role and we will be liaising with local authorities to ensure this is done in an adequate manner.

In drawing up the by-laws we expect local authorities to consult with all water users to ensure the interests of all those concerned are taken into account. In that respect I assure Senator Dardis that we are conscious of the conflicting requirements of different water users, including anglers, power boat owners, etc. However, given a sensible regime and if people are prepared to be responsible and reasonable these sports can live side by side. I have seen some of the conflicts which can occur, particularly with anglers who feel they have traditionally been on these lakes and waterways and who think their rights are threatened. However, that should not be the case and the zoning proposal should deal with the issue in an adequate way. By and large common sense and good local co-operation will be central to the successful implementation of the Bill.

The board will be included under the Freedom of Information Act. With regard to public relations and safety, the Safety on the Water Campaign 2000 will be launched in the next week or two. It will involve a very hard hitting series of advertising on radio and in other media and will be done in liaison with the RNLI, the Water Safety Association, the Irish Sailing Organisation and the Irish Coastguard. I hope we will not have tragedies this year, but if we have tragedies similar to those which occurred last year I will contemplate using such tragic circumstances to point out to people how carelessness plays a main part in accidents and fatalities. I have looked back at some of the accidents which have taken place in recent years and there is no doubt that they could have been avoided if people had been careful. We are reaching the point where we will have to be very direct and perhaps point to people's carelessness to show others that there are lessons to be learned. There is no point in our legislating and having an effective search and rescue scheme if people are simply not prepared to take minimum safety precautions.

The question of marine pollution was raised and will feature largely at the meeting of the Transport Council on 26 June at which we will press strongly for proposals to strengthen measures to avoid pollution problems. We are all acutely aware of the accident off the French coast involving the Erica. The resulting pollution destroyed the French coastline. It is a salutary lesson that we must be vigilant and not leave ourselves open to the risk of a similar accident happening off our coast. We are moving towards the provision of a towing vessel to ensure we will have the capability to tow major vessels in danger of damaging our coastline. The necessary Government approval has been obtained.

I agree with what has been said by various Senators in respect of the significant potential of tourism both off our coastline and in our inland waterways, particularly angling. On taking office one of my officials made the telling comment that as a nation we tend to see ourselves as living in a country whereas we should look upon ourselves as living along a coastline. It is a golden coastline. It is amazing that we have never recognised this as an island nation and as a consequence we have not exploited it to its full potential. There is a team working assiduously in the Department to exploit this fantastic resource, not just the natural resources within the marine environment but also the great scenic beauty of our coastline.

I look forward to the adoption of an aggressive approach to marine tourism development. There are a number of small examples. Because of the number of French yachts one will not be able to enter the new marina in Dingle for the next two months. This is a magnificent achievement. It is our intention to develop a necklace of marinas around the coastline to attract high spending tourists who will explore the country from a different angle. There is huge potential. Safety and a proper investment regime will be two of the primary factors considered in respect of its exploitation.

We have to put a stop to people using jet skis and power craft without training or cognisance of the dangers involved. That is the main objective. With the economy growing and people having the necessary disposable income to purchase such craft, we wish to put down a marker that it is lethal equipment which, as Senator Dardis said, they should be able to handle properly, just like a motorbike. They should also be aware of their own safety requirements and those of other users in particular. The Bill and the accompanying regulations will get the message across in the strongest possible terms.

I thank Senators for their contributions. We will reflect on what they said.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Wednesday, 14 June 2000.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 14 June 2000.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday, 13 June 2000, at 2.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 1.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 June 2000.