Merchant Shipping Bill 2009: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to introduce the Merchant Shipping Bill 2009 for the consideration of the House. 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 nation. Its value to the nation was emphasised recently when the volcanic ash cut the island off from an aviation point of view.

The sea, for all its riches and potential for development, can on the other hand 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 on the water. The objective of the Bill 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. The purpose of the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1894 to date, 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.

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 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.

The present Merchant Shipping Acts do not have separate 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. 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, the Bill 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 disposal of such a vessel.

The Bill contains an amendment to the Harbours Act 1996 to provide for the medical fitness of marine pilots and to repeal the requirement in the 1996 Act for compulsory retirement at age 60. An important aspect of the Bill 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 update the current maximum court fines for contravention of existing maritime safety rules and regulations. Enforcement is strengthened through extended powers of inspection, detention of unsafe ships and court orders for compliance. Through this series of measures the provisions in the Bill will put a more firm legislative basis in place to underpin the implementation of an effective enforcement regime and ensure effective compliance programmes to meet international and national requirements.

The Bill is set out in eight Parts. Sections 1, 2 and 3 are standard provisions relating to title, definitions and administration expenses. Section 4 contains standard provisions for prosecutions. Section 5 provides for the laying of orders, regulations and rules before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Section 6 amends and updates the definition of terms for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952. The definition of "Safety Convention" is updated. Section 7 substitutes a new section 10 in the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952 for the making of construction rules for passenger ships. Section 8 changes the 1952 Act for the making of radio rules and strengthens the inspection and enforcement powers. Section 9 substitutes a new section 18 in the 1952 Act and introduces modern terminology. It contains enabling powers to make navigation and tracking rules. Inspection, enforcement and prosecution provisions are also provided, as they are in most of these sections.

Section 10 substitutes a new section 46 of the 1952 Act to provide that troop ships are exempt from specified provisions. Section 11 updates references in the 1952 Act to use modern terminology, which is something we have been trying to do in our legislation. It also expands the application of specified sections of that Act to cover "fire protection rules". Again, fines and prosecutions are dealt with. Section 12 deals with the making of rules for the construction and survey of ships and the fines in respect of offences in that regard.

Section 13 provides for the issue of a composite cargo ship safety certificate covering safety equipment, radio equipment and cargo ship safety construction certification. Section 14 introduces a new power for the making of bulk carrier rules, also with inspection, enforcement and prosecution provisions.

Section 15 gives enabling powers for the categorisation of vessels into classes for the purpose of making rules and to make different rules for different kinds of vessels. That applies to passenger boats, recreational craft and fishing vessels. A similar power is provided in each of the enabling sections throughout the Bill. This will give flexibility to allow for less onerous requirements which may be appropriate for smaller vessels.

Part 3 contains new provisions for the further implementation of the SOLAS Safety Convention. The basic structure of all of these chapters — chapter 1 which deals with chemical tanker rules, chapter 2 with liquefied gas carriage rules, chapter 3 with nuclear carriage rules, chapter 4 with high speed craft rules, chapter 5 with tendering operations regulations, chapter 6 with safe manning regulations and chapter 7 with unsafe ships — is the same. It provides for the making of rules to prescribe the particular requirements for structural, operational and survey requirements for each one of these categories and it also provides for survey, certification, inspection, enforcement and prosecution provisions.

Chapter 6 contains sections 57 to 63, inclusive, which enable the Minister to make safe manning regulations, and also provisions are provided for enforcement, prosecution and inspection.

Chapter 7 deals with unsafe ships in sections 64 to 66, inclusive. It empowers surveyors to detain unsafe ships. That power can be exercised in respect of the chapters in the Bill that provide for all of these mentioned previously — chemical, gas and nuclear carriers and high-speed craft. It covers the powers that the inspectors have to deal with those.

Part 4 of the Bill introduces a new provision for access for persons with reduced mobility to passenger vessels. It is covered in sections 67 to 73, inclusive. It gives definitions in section 67. It provides the enabling powers in section 68 for the regulations and prosecutions. It provides for the publication of codes in section 69. Section 70 provides for the admissibility and use of codes of practice in criminal proceedings. Sections 71 to 73, inclusive, deal with the authorised persons for the purposes of enforcement and the inspection powers of authorised persons. Section 73 provides for the operation of an administrative fixed payment system similar to on-the-spot fines. A person may opt to make a payment within 21 days in lieu of a court prosecution.

Part 5 contains the regulations, which I dealt with in the overall introduction, dealing with the raising of sunken vessels. That runs from sections 74 to 81, inclusive.

Part 6, in sections 82 to 86, inclusive, provides for safety measures. It brings many of the safety measures up to date. It allows for the making of rules. It is an enabling section as well and covers vital safety matters such as the provision of life-boats, life-jackets, distress signals etc. It enables the making of regulations for inspection for those, provides for the fire protection rules and the enforcement provisions. There is the same lay-out of sections in that as in the previous ones.

Part 7 of the Bill deals with a new provision to give force of law in the State to the regulations and code of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 adopted at Geneva on 23 February 2006. This enables the Minister to make regulations to fulfil the State's commitments under the convention in respect of Irish ships and seafarers sailing on those ships. The regulations will establish a system for ensuring compliance with the convention including surveys, certification, inspections, reporting and monitoring, and it will also ensure that ships carry maritime labour certificates and a declaration of maritime labour compliance as required by the convention. We will need a commencement order to bring that into place.

Part 8 contains the usual famous miscellaneous matters, dealt with in sections 88 to 93. Section 88 provides that it is an offence for somebody to obstruct, impede or fail to comply with a request from an authorised person. Section 89 introduces a new enforcement option which means the surveyor may apply to the Circuit Court for a compliance order if his or her order is not obeyed, and a right of appeal is provided.

Section 90 deals with fees. Section 91 provides for the charging of a fee for the issue of certificates and other documents that the Minister may issue. Section 92 provides confirmation that acts of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and other specified between 5 June 2002 and 29 June 2007 are not invalidated on the grounds of the invalidity of an establishment order made in 2002 or that the board did not have a quorum between 25 March 2003 and 29 June 2007.

Section 93 amends the Harbours Act 1996 to delete the compulsory retirement requirement at age 60 for marine pilots and to provide instead medical fitness requirements. It is a matter that was raised in this House and in the other House when we were dealing with the Harbours Bill. Senator Donohue specifically raised it and it is being dealt with here, as I stated I would at the time.

The objective in presenting the Bill to the House is to put in place a safety regime ensuring the highest standards for safe construction, design and operation of vessels and up-to-date safety equipment and arrangements that will support skilled and competent seafarers across the trading, fishing and leisure areas of the maritime sector. I commend the Bill to the House and thank the House for the time made available.

I welcome the Minister.

We will understand if Senator Donohoe does not take his full 12 minutes. There may be matters that are otherwise exercising his mind.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his understanding.

Senator Donohoe can go now.

I am touched by how many colleagues in different political parties have suddenly expressed such an interest in the welfare of ourselves. I thank the Acting Chairman again. He is correct. As I was getting ready for this debate, I thought I have not had legislation to deal with in the past six months and it struck me as either fortunate or unfortunate that today, of all days, this legislation should arrive.

That said, when I began to get ready for the legislation and began to look into the background of it, the importance and relevance of it quickly became clear. When I looked into the information available on fatalities at sea, I was shocked to learn how many poor souls have been lost. I understand the Marine Casualty Investigation Board reported that 41 fatalities have taken place at sea since 2005. Those fatalities have taken place for many different reasons and it is for some of those reasons that this Bill is being brought in. As was the case in the other House, my party will be supporting this Bill and looking to take as constructive a role as we can in regard to it to see what we can do to deliver its swift passage through the House, but also to see how we can constructively improve it.

Given that I will support the Bill for the reasons outlined, I will limit my comments to those areas to which I will advert on Committee Stage and to which I will table amendments in determining whether the Bill and its implementation can be strengthened. My colleague in the Dáil has touched on the first of these areas, that of the impairment of people responsible for vessels at sea due to alcohol. The people concerned must make decisions on behalf of the crew and others. My party tabled amendments in respect of this matter and the Minister recognised the intent behind them. On Committee Stage I hope to focus on whether aspects of the Bill can be improved to ensure will be more potent in dealing with this matter. Loss of life for any reason is tragic, but loss of life due to the consumption of alcohol at sea is particularly sad. We should use this opportunity to determine whether the State could play a more effective role in this regard.

On Committee Stage I will examine the position on jet skis and other vessels and vehicles at sea that move at a faster pace and have greater mobility than the larger vessels on which the Bill focuses. I will also examine the section dealing with chemical tanker rules. I will put some points and questions to the Minister on how we define the duties of the owners and masters of such vessels. I will also make some observations in that respect.

I will examine the Bill's provisions on nuclear carriage rules. While I welcome the fact that the Bill has important comments to make in this regard, I will make a number of points, in particular, on the definition of an incident from a nuclear carriage point of view.

I will examine the effect of improved regulation on pricing, for example, regulations in respect of sea passengers with particular forms of disability. One of the few risks in greater regulation indicated by the regulatory impact analysis which was helpfully supplied for this legislation was a potential change in the prices charged to persons using some of the services in question. I would like to discuss this point with the Minister further.

We welcome and support the legislation and will do our best to take a constructive approach to it. I have outlined some of the areas I will discuss at greater length on Committee Stage, to which I look forward.

Like Senator Donohoe and the Minister, I welcome the Bill because as, we all know, there have been tragedies at sea. One wonders how many of them could have been avoided had there been proper regulations in place. Tragedies at sea occur regularly.

I wish to mention one or two issues. Access for disabled passengers is to be welcomed, as every Senator present has come across cases where access to vessels was not at the level desired. I, therefore, welcome full regulation of this matter.

Ships are regularly detained in port because wages have not been paid to seafarers. This problem is not of our making, since we can only regulate for Irish-flagged ships. Slave labour is being used on some international ships. People sign up for long periods and cannot leave their ships, although we can understand the obvious reasons for the latter. This practice is wrong and should be examined internationally. We should take the opportunity to ensure a minimum amount is paid to seafarers. Minimum wage rates for other forms of labour are to be found across the European Union. Any ship trading into the Union should be forced to consider the prospect of paying EU-level wages and salaries. In some sad cases the State or even unions must pay to fly someone who has been left semi-destitute by unscrupulous boat operators home.

We are all worried about safety. Ships are regularly detained in port because of their poor standards. It should be mandatory for a boat above a certain age to undergo the equivalent of an MOT on a regular basis. We should pursue this issue internationally to help protect various communities. We can all remember tragedies in which boats ran aground because of the lack of proper navigational equipment and caused environmental damage. Current events in the Gulf of Mexico are probably enough to ensure something similar will not be caused by shipping.

The Bill makes regulations for liquefied petrol gas, LPG, and other products. What is the position on the transport of oil and other products by ship? Incoming regulations will require all new ships to be double-hulled to ensure they are bunkered. While this issue must be examined, the main focus of the Bill must be on unsafe ships. "Rust bucket" is the best way to describe some of the vessels operating under illicit flags. Certain airlines are not allowed to fly into parts of the European Union for safety reasons. Perhaps the same should be considered in terms of the rust buckets that enter our waters and ports. If we are to protect our environment, it is important that we do so on every level, not for specific reasons alone.

Like me colleagues, I welcome the Bill and wish the Minister well with it. He might consider some of the issues I have raised prior to Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. I also welcome the legislation. We aspire to play a constructive role in examining the Bill and, possibly, tabling amendments where we consider it needs to be strengthened.

As I have consistently stated in various debates on marine issues, we do not have a Minister with responsibility for the marine. We have a newly appointed Minister of State, Deputy Connick, who is working hard on the review of the Common Fisheries Policy, but traditionally we had a Minister for and a Department of the Marine and a dedicated Civil Service staff. Responsibility for the marine has been separated between the Minister for Transport, the Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith. This is not to take from the commitment of Ministers dealing with aspects of the portfolio, but an overall integrated marine strategy that addresses the issues facing us could be used to reboot coastal and rural economies.

The information pack provided by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service is of considerable benefit to us in this debate, but the volume of export and shipping trade in the State is significant. Sometimes we need to think outside the box where the marine is concerned. It is one of those areas that needs innovation and which, with a push, could lead to economic recovery and sustain jobs in rural and coastal economies. Manufacturing industries in large urban centres tell their own story, particularly in the current difficult international climate, but I will cite some useful statistics. Every job created at sea generates approximately €7 in the local economy. That is hugely important. I come from west Cork, as the Minister may be aware, and the south western seaboard from Kinsale to the peninsulas, over to Castletownbere and taking in Glandore, Union Hall, Baltimore and all of those areas, is worth a great deal to us locally. The seafood industry is a very important area of activity.

I agree wholeheartedly with the points Senator Ellis rightly made. We have seen some appalling abuses of workers and appalling treatment of human beings by unscrupulous employers and people who, unfortunately, will never be accountable in this country. We must examine that issue. It is beyond belief that in the past two years members of a crew on a ship docked here were literally eating dog food. That is disgusting, and the people responsible for that deserve to be in jail. People in trade unions have been championing that cause for a long time but it is beyond belief that any of our cities with a port, such as Cork city, might have a ship in the harbour on which human beings are being treated in that way. One would not treat dogs in that way. If somebody did that to an animal here there would be a provision in law to address it and ensure the person responsible was dealt with. It is not good enough that people can take advantage in that regard. In terms of the displacement issue of five or six years ago, people were using that type of position to take advantage of workers' rights. That is one of the issues that sticks in my craw.

A particular aspect of the Bill deals with our offshore islands. I remind the Minister of one issue which goes back some years. It concerns the chomharchumann on Cape Clear which had operated a very successful ferry service in and out of Baltimore. The contract was due for renewal. It went through a tender process and the co-operative lost that contract; somebody else won it. In the context of that transfer of contract there is a TUPE clause in the legislation, which means the transfer of undertakings. That TUPE clause allows for the safeguarding of the terms and conditions of the people who were working before the contract changed. It ensures their conditions do not change, particularly in terms of their earnings, the hours they work and so forth but a situation arose where the contract went from one operator to another and, lo and behold, the TUPE clause was not in the new contract. That resulted in job losses, a reduction in costs on the part of the new operator and the conditions being changed. The idea behind TUPE was to protect people from that type of situation but, unfortunately, the opposite was the case.

I ask the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to bear in mind that when we are dealing with the broader issue of workers' rights and conditions it is essential there is a well-established policy that is adhered to and that individual positions will not be granted where conditions change. That is not helpful. In any controversy that arises in any village or small town throughout the country there is a bitter aftertaste and despite people's best intentions, that could linger on. That is not helpful.

On the question of the raising of sea vessels, I feel obliged to raise the issue of Asgard II. That is one of those decisions we will live to regret as an island nation. Asgard II sank some years ago in the Bay of Biscay. We have raised that issue consistently in this House and Tom MacSweeney, the retired marine correspondent with RTE, was strong on the issue also. Asgard II was the national sail training boat and an important part of the marine life of this country in terms of extending to future generations an activity that can be enjoyable but also commercially viable to this country. The vessel was insured and there was not any sound reason not to raise it. In terms of the history of Asgard II, the granddaughter of the benefactor of Asgard is now a Labour MEP but I hope that will not colour the thinking of the Department or the Minister in terms of taking action when it comes to dealing with what is a national treasure. It is not good enough that the vessel lies somewhere off the Bay of Biscay.

On trading, development and the issue of safety at sea, I was telling Senator Donohoe before coming into the Chamber that too many people have lost a parent, more often than not their father, at sea. Regarding the recent controversy over the lost at sea scheme, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has had the Minister, the former Minister and the officials before it to examine the lost at sea scheme but it is as if the term "lost at sea" does not penetrate our psyche. It literally means that people have lost their lives at sea. Families have lost loved ones. They will never have a grave to go to or be able to go through a proper grieving process in terms of giving them a Christian burial or the send off that is traditional in this country. That is tragic and it is heartbreaking to see someone who has been affected by that. It is something we must be mindful of in the future in terms of allowing people the opportunity to train and be aware of safety standards.

I will give the Minister an example. I come from Dunmanway, the geographical centre point of west Cork. I am aware the Minister is familiar with the area. A former constituent of his who is now living in Dunmanway reminded me some time ago that the Minister attended 12 o'clock mass in Dunmanway and may have got into the Sam Maguire memorial park on the same morning but that location is central to the south-west coast. We have a swimming pool in Dunmanway publicly owned by Cork County Council since the late 1970s and everybody below the age of 40 would be a fairly good swimmer in the town because of that facility. That is something we take for granted. Children of 12, 13 of 14 years of age swim without even thinking about it but, unfortunately, the lack of that skill among people involved in the marine is frightening. People tell them they are at the mercy of the sea but they do not have that basic skill in terms of safety, never mind the leisure aspect. We must put in place structures that allow people the opportunity to become competent in terms of safety be it in swimming or the academic side that may well follow. We must put major emphasis on that in the future.

Senator Ellis made another important point about the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico which has had a huge effect in terms of BP and the possibility of fines and the stock market reaction to it. The consequences are major. We must ensure we do not find ourselves in a similar position. This country led the way some years ago in terms of the smoking ban. With political conviction and imagination we can lead the way in a number of other areas. We can put in place structures and laws that require people to behave to a standard. It is similar to the debates we had on one-off rural houses when the Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, was Minister for the Environment, to his credit he brought in guidelines on this area but they were just guidelines. If we do not legally compel people or require them to do what we would like them to do it will not happen. Another important aspect is the issue of enforcement.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. I look forward to tabling amendments on the other Stages to ensure this legislation leaves this House in a better condition than when it arrived.

This is my first opportunity since being elected to the House to be here with the Minister present.

In many aspects the Merchant Shipping Bill is like a miscellaneous provisions Bill in that it ties in other elements that are needed. The Merchant Shipping Bill is vital legislation. It has a strategy for two elements but primarily maritime safety. The Bill, which was published last May, is primarily about Irish ships and ships in Irish waters. Senator Donohoe said that not many maritime issues arise in Dublin Central but it is interesting to see the various elements within this Bill.

The Bill has two layers, so to speak, primarily national and international. We studied international public law in UCD and a key element of that was the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, an audit of which is due to be done in September. This is vital legislation in that it covers the legislative provisions in place. In that international audit we will be asked about the provisions we have put in place, and this Bill will be a key element of that. I look forward to the enabling features of this Bill being put in place.

A key aim of the Bill is to improve the safety of life at sea and as Senator Ellis stated, a key element of that is access for people with reduced mobility. That is important. I know Senator Mary White has taken on this issue and it is one on which I will also campaign. While mandatory requirements for ships and trawlers will be put in place, I would like voluntary codes of practice to be introduced before moving to full mandatory procedures.

The legislation covers many vessels, from large tankers to jet skis. It will, for example, regulate construction rules, from passenger vessels to cargo ships, survey and radio rules, the carrying of chemical tanker fuels and high speed craft. It will also strengthen regulatory provisions to improve maritime safety.

Another element of the legislation, touched on by Senator McCarthy, concerns the raising of sunken vessels. While there is no express provision in statute for this, the Bill will provide for new parameters to allow different actions to be taken in this regard.

Section 36 will provide for the giving of the force of law to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006. This is key to the employment and social rights of seafarers on Irish ships and to ensure there are proper working conditions. The final draft of the Bill contains a provision for a commencement order in this regard in section 36, which I welcome.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation may need to make regulations for the Bill's employment aspects. As Senators Ellis and McCarthy pointed out, ship workers' conditions are a source of serious concern for many. I hope we can put in place procedures and structures which will protect them at all times.

The Bill will confirm and validate the actions of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board after it was found its original commencement order was defective. The Attorney General gave advice on this matter.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill and look forward to further debating certain aspects of it on Committee Stage. I hope it will have a swift passage through the House.

Given that Ireland is an island, it is not in the interests of marine development and subsequent sectoral employment creation potential to have seven or eight people responsible for the sector. While not taking from those already involved in it, whenever I raise a marine matter with the line Minister, I discover it falls within the remit of various Departments and agencies. I accept that when Deputy Killeen was the Minister of State responsible, he brought together a co-ordinating group to oversee the area.

Ireland still has not maximised its marine economic potential. Coming from Moville, a major whitefish port in County Donegal, and only three miles from the National Fisheries College at Greencastle, I know the fishing industry has been under strain. Many who were involved in the industry in my area have informed me of what they see as job opportunities in other marine activities there. However, I have not received much feedback on these opportunities whenever I have raised them with various Departments and agencies. A breakwater, for example, at Greencastle Harbour was under development. Does the Minister know if Donegal County Council has paid its contribution in respect of its development?

While it is not all doom and gloom and fishermen are now getting a better price for their catches, the numbers in the industry have fallen. A report by the trade magazine TankerOperator was brought to my attention in which Jan Morten Eskilt, OSM’s group chairman, indicated in a presentation in Norway that the shipping sector would face a shortage of 70,000 officers by 2012. This figure had been revised downwards from an earlier prediction of 90,000. He attributed this decline to the current global economic climate. The shipping sector is seeking enough cadets in training programmes to be available when the economic upturn occurs. Ireland has the capacity in its existing training facilities at Cork and Greencastle to fill the gaps in the numbers of training cadets.

In January a seafarers task force was launched by the European Commission, inviting industry leaders to take part in discussions designed to come up with ways of reversing the decline in European seafaring. Ship owners, experts and union representative would also join academics and law-makers in the brainstorming session. Has Ireland become involved in this task force? Is it fighting for a corner of the training market? Which Minister is responsible for this area?

In the next two years 60 million tonnes of newly built shipping will join the world fleet. Most of the tonnage was ordered at the height of the shipping boom and it will be joining the shipping market when freight prices are at break-even levels. There has been an increase in the rate of scrappage, but such was the rush to offload elderly and uneconomical vessels that the price of scrap metal collapsed. Accordingly, some ship owners need a hot lay-up to allow them to bring a boat back into service quickly, while others need a cold lay-up while waiting for metal prices to change again. I come from an area with many deep water berthages and close to the Harland and Wolff shipyard. I have been informed by many that my area could provide hot and cold lay-up facilities for boats currently surplus to requirements, as well as providing training facilities for some of the required 70,000 sea officers. As Senator McCarthy said, every job created at sea generates approximately €7 in the local economy. We are surrounded by water. These are simply two examples of what we could be doing. I would like to think we could be at the forefront of trying to get our cut of this market. There are few islands in Europe. There may be people with coastlines, but few people with islands. We should have a relatively good infrastructure by now because there has been good infrastructure development in the past decade. We should not be knocking on the door gently at this point. We should be rapidly progressing towards the source and potential of those jobs. My difficulty is that when I raise issues about marine tourism, I am informed it is a matter for the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport. If I approach that Department, I am informed it is a matter for the Department with responsibility of the marine. When I refer to marine jobs, I approach the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, but I am informed it is not a matter for that Department because it is a marine matter. We need to respect the marine a great deal more than we have done to date. We need a cross-sectoral approach that not only ticks a box, but drives the opportunities. I am a firm believer in the opportunities of the marine, from tourism to merchant and commercial shipping and many other ventures on the sea as well.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. Today, when the media is focused on other issues, this Bill will probably slip by. However, it is remarkably important. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of Senator Keaveney, who remarked on the importance of the maritime tradition to this island nation. It is an island nation, albeit slightly politically divided. The sea is an important part of our tradition. I have had the great privilege to hold many conversations with Dr. John de Courcy Ireland, a gentleman with a passion beyond belief for a particular subject. His passion was the sea and all things maritime. He was an extraordinary gentleman. He believed we did not focus on the great traditions we had around us.

I am a representative from Galway, where there is a tradition of great fear of the sea. There is also great respect for the sea. There was a tradition whereby people who went out to catch fish in their currachs did not learn to swim. I realise we are deviating somewhat from the issue of merchant shipping but many traditions relate to the sea surrounding this island. From an economic point of view, it is probable we have not valued the sea to the extent other countries have done. I refer to the great joke about the Swiss navy. Switzerland has no sea borders but at one stage it had a larger navy than Ireland, although that is largely a historical matter at this stage.

This Bill relates to safety at sea. I have heard reference made to the lost at sea scheme, a matter we must resolve and put behind us. I note this Bill replaces Shipping Acts from 1894 to 2005. This shows the length of time and the vast history we have in this area. I refer to the ports around the country. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has responsibly for transport matters. There are some good ports in this country but in many cases we do not have great ports. We do not have such ports of maritime excellence that other countries have. For example, Rotterdam is a major entry port for Europe. Obviously, Dublin is the largest port but there are several others ports around the country. I refer to Rosslare, Waterford, Cork and Galway, all of which have great traditions attached to them, among many others. Do we use them to the extent to which they could be used for shipping? I do not believe so. Do we have the transport infrastructure, such as rail infrastructure links, to the ports that could help see us into the future and to develop more environmentally strategic transport infrastructure which, I believe, we need? I note the Minister referred to the volcano and the strategic, environmental infrastructure which ports provide, which is absolutely correct. In the days of old, people travelled around the country more by sea than by land. There was the great Eiscir Riada but how did people get from one part of the country to another? Often, it was very dangerous. When one visits some of the islands inhabited by Gráinne Mhaol and so on, one realises that at certain times in our history more people lived on the islands than on the mainland and that the seafaring tradition sustained our people. It is timely to consider the strategic value of the sea and transport by sea, especially freight and human transport by sea.

The sail training vessel, Asgard II, was mentioned. I understand the insurance money for it has not translated into a new sail training vessel. I realise times are tough but the insurance money has been provided and I urge the Minister to consider providing a state of the art sail training vessel for the country, either as a long-term or short-term initiative. I would prefer it as a short-term initiative.

As the Mayor of Galway, I had the great privilege to board the Argentine sail training vessel, the Libertad. Anyone who has been on the Libertad will realise it is an unbelievable advertisement for Argentina. The amount of ambassadorial talent on that ship and the esteem in which it is held throughout the world is remarkable. The vessel bolsters the Argentine Navy and the seafaring traditions of Argentina. The Argentine Navy was set up by an Irishman from Mayo, William Brown, another link to our great maritime tradition.

I refer to the maritime museum set up by John de Courcy Ireland. A present the museum, located in Dún Laoghaire, is not open. I urge the Minister to consider facilitating ways to open it. Money is always an issue in these matters. However, it should be a strategic objective to open that museum. A country such as Ireland, an island nation, deserves and should have a national maritime museum. There is already a suitable building, the Mariners' Church in Dún Laoghaire. As a matter of urgency, we must make a political effort to ensure it opens.

I refer to the Volvo Ocean Race, which strays somewhat from merchant shipping matters. The race highlights what we can achieve in this country. It was the most magnificent event in Galway. I cannot stress enough how magnificent it was. The Government saw it as a magnificent event with great potential. It invested money and it turned out to be one of the greatest events in this country during the recent, difficult years. It provided a great boost to the city I live in. The Taoiseach was at the launch of the event. Since Galway did so well as a stop-over host, it was decided that, for the first time, it would host the final stop-over of the Volvo Ocean Race in 2012. The Government is getting behind this plan and I commend it for doing so. It can only lead to good for our city and country. The international prestige of the event is very important.

Merchant shipping in this country has had its ups and downs. At times, we have had a great tradition. The Minister referred to the volcano and the difficulty in terms of air transport at particular times. We should not rely on one form of transport. Let us consider the difficulties the Isle of Man has had as a very small island. It has had ups and downs in terms of shipping which have had a great effect on that island. We must strategically underpin our trade routes by having a completely sustainable merchant shipping potential. Whether it comprises Irish owned ships is a matter for policy but from a strategic point of view, we need to encourage Irish owned shipping because this is an island nation. If a situation arises, as it did with the volcano, where air transport cannot be relied on, it is very important we have a back-up plan.

Shipping is hugely important from an environmental point of view. Moving goods by ship is much more efficient and less costly. The only downside is the speed of transport. For goods that do not need to be transported quickly, it is important to encourage the use of sea shipping as opposed to air transport. In the context of cheap oil and climate change, we need to focus on far more environmentally-friendly forms of transport. Shipping provides that. I commend the Minister on bringing this Bill before the House and hope we see more Bills on shipping from his Department in the future.

Gabhaim buíochas do na Seanadóirí go léir a labhair ar an mBille seo. I thank Senators for their comments on the Bill, which were wide-ranging. There might have been a small number of contributors on this Stage but the quality of contributions was particularly noteworthy and I thank Senators. I do not propose to go through all the issues raised in great detail because we will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to deal with them in detail. Senators probably flagged them as issues they would like to discuss further on Committee Stage.

I reiterate what I said at the outset which has been reflected in the contributions of Senators that this Bill is being introduced as part of a maritime safety agenda to try to strengthen the measures already introduced in a range of Merchant Shipping Acts dating from 1894 to 2005, as Senator Ó Brolcháin said. It tidies up all of those Acts. It also puts in place a number of new measures which represent further progress in bringing legislation in this area up to date and in introducing comprehensive, consolidating legislation.

We strayed from the principal provisions but they are being introduced to improve safety of life at sea. I am sure by creating the enabling provisions, we will be able to make rules and regulations for the safety of vessels. We will be able to change and alter the enabling provisions as circumstances change. That is very important. It is also essential the State is in a position to implement and enforce maritime safety provisions by having this legislation in place. This Bill strengthens that as well as the statutory basis for the enforcement of our safety agenda.

The Bill will enable us to implement the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 and all the conventions of the International Maritime Convention. It advances the agenda referred to by many of the contributors, which is safety, saving lives and preventing loss of life at sea.

Senator Donohoe raised the issue of alcohol. His party has taken a very positive position in regard to the Bill generally. I could not take on board the suggestions it made in this regard in the Dáil because we are in an international process. However, it is an important issue which I look forward to discussing further in the House. The question of disabilities is dealt with in the Bill. We have gone a good way to meeting all the requirements but I would be interested to hear Senators' views when we deal with that section.

To a certain extent, the Bill deals with employment law which was referred to by Senators Ellis and McCarthy as well as the terrible position which arose some years ago where people on board vessels which docked in Ireland were virtually on slave wages. The Bill does not deal specifically with this area because the next Bill we will introduce on the registration of vessels and so on will deal with that in detail. It is important that we do so.

A number of Senators raised the question of banning unsafe ships, which is not easy to do. This Bill gives greater powers to authorised officers once a ship docks. The point made by Senator Ellis was perhaps about the environmental dangers of an unsafe ship coming into Irish waters. It is not possible to prevent that but once a ship arrives, there is a series of enforcement measures we can take under this legislation to make the vessel safe, to prevent pollution and so on.

A number Senators referred to the possibilities in the marine sector generally for employment, of which I am very conscious. We have had the debate on a number of occasions about whether a specific Minister for the marine would be for the best. I have seen both sides of the coin and I am inclined to come down on the side of the arrangements we have currently, although I accept co-ordination might not be perfect. It is better that I deal with maritime transport. Fisheries is a very specific area of maritime activity and it is right that a Minister of State is responsible for it. My experience over the past 20 years in this area is that a Department of the marine is a small Department which does not carry as much weight as it should and that it loses out at the end of the day. One can debate these issues but I agree with Senator Keaveney's contention that whatever way it is organised, there should be co-ordination. She spoke about the co-ordination committee which was under the Minister for Defence, Deputy Killeen, but which is now under the Minister of State, Deputy Connick.

I am very conscious of the potential for employment which Deputy Keaveney mentioned. I encourage the marine development office, which is in my area of responsibility, to look for these employment creation opportunities. Senator Keaveney referred to the task force with representatives of the EU Commission and marine industry which is linked to the Maritime Labour Convention. Its objective is the training of seafarers for EU flagged ships trading internationally. As the Senator rightly said, we are talking about perhaps 70,000 people across the EU.

Ireland has a number of approved training providers, in particular, the National Maritime Training College. We are trying to ensure we benefit from that EU initiative, of which we are conscious. I agree with the Senator that it is an area which has enormous potential which we probably have not tapped into too well in the recent past. Both Senators mentioned the development of leisure tourism. Marine recreational activities could be enhanced a great deal also.

I do not propose to go into further detail. Most of the significant points made will be dealt with in detail on Committee Stage when I look forward to positive contributions from Senators. We had a good debate in the other House when we teased out a number of issues, but if Members bring forward ideas that will strengthen and improve the Bill, despite the inconvenience caused in having to return to the Dáil, I will be more than willing to consider them because it is important to get the legislation right.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 22 June 2010.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ag 2.30 p.m. dé Máirt seo chugainn.