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.