Merchant Shipping Bill 2009: Committee Stage.

This meeting has been convened for the purpose of consideration by this committee of the Merchant Shipping Bill, which was referred to the select committee by order of the Dáil dated 28 May 2009. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and his officials and members now will proceed with consideration of this Bill.

SECTION 1.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and are alternative to each other and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, lines 21 and 22, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:

"(2) The Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 2000, section 28 of the Sea Pollution (Hazardous Substances) (Compensation) Act 2005, the Maritime Safety Act 2005 (other than Parts 5 and 6) and this Act may be cited together as the Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 2010.".

Deputy Broughan also has tabled an amendment in this regard and I thank him for identifying that a correction is required to the description of the collective citation to refer to section 28 of the Sea Pollution (Hazardous Substances) (Compensation) Act 2005 and the Maritime Safety Act 2005, other than Parts 5 and 6. The amendment I have tabled expands the citation to include the additional references and the text is broadly similar to that of the amendment tabled by Deputy Broughan. I thank the Deputy and ask him to withdraw his amendment on the basis that it has been included in my amendment.

I believe the amendment tabled by the Minister is slightly more comprehensive and consequently I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 5.

I move amendment No.3:

In page 7, line 2, after "Oireachtas" to insert "for approval".

Section 5 provides that every order, regulation and rule made under this Act shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. This Bill, if it ever reaches completion, will be important. Consequently, I thought the words "for approval" by the Oireachtas should be added to provide for accountability. In other words, such a measure would be laid before Oireachtas Members and therefore would be available to them on the Order Paper on the relevant date. Consequently, this amendment is designed to make the legislation a little more democratic.

While this is a fairly common amendment to legislation, I believe the present system probably works better. This section provides the standard element in the process that either House may, within 21 days, pass a resolution annulling the secondary legislation instrument if it does not approve of any order, regulation or rule that has been made under the Act and does not wish it to continue in force. The Deputy's amendment, which proposes that secondary legislation made under the Act should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval is not required, and I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment. I believe the manner in which it is done at present is much more efficient and still allows for the democratic process whereby those who have difficulty with such an order can have it annulled.

While it is handy for the Government, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 5 agreed to.
Section 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7.

Amendments Nos. 4, 23, 26, 29 to 31, inclusive, 33 and 41 are cognate and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 8, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

"(e) the flag under which the vessel is registered;”.

I will run through each amendment. Section 7 relates to construction rules and an amendment to the Act of 1952, whereby the Minister can make rules in respect of hull superstructures and so on. The Minister may categorise steamers into different classes such as their size, shape, service, nature, duration and so on. This amendment is related to the amendments I tabled that have been shot down. I thought it would be valuable to include a reference to the flag in these rules and that the flag under which the vessel is registered should comprise a new category when categorising passenger vessels for making construction rules. I have tabled this amendment on the same basis as I had intended to table amendments Nos. 47 to 49, inclusive, namely, the flag is a critical element of a vessel's legal character and always should be included in key criteria such as this provision, given the appalling ongoing problem of flags of convenience.

Amendment No. 23 proposes an amendment to section 12, which pertains to cargo ship construction rules, to include again a categorisation regarding flags. Obviously, I have in mind the treatment of workers under various flags. Similarly, amendment No. 26 relates to rules pertaining to bulk carriers and proposes that such vessels could be categorised in respect of flags. Amendment No. 29 proposes a similar amendment regarding flags to section 15, which lays down safety regulations. The Acting Chairman may have participated in the debate on vessels' flags, which is a serious issue. For example, Mongolia has hundreds of vessels despite being landlocked. People must ask what is the purpose of carrying a flag for a country like Mongolia. I have great regard for Mongolia, its sovereignty, character and so on. This is probably a small but good business for it. However, it is being utilised in a negative way for maritime workers. Similarly, there are complaints about many Caribbean islands, such as the Grenadines and various other flags, and, historically, west African countries like Liberia and so on.

We mentioned one of my old colleagues in the labour movement, Tony Ayton, who had spent his whole career invigilating vessels where labour standards were unfair and had attempted to encourage owners and shipping lines to give people decent levels of pay and conditions in light of what people have suffered in the past. This matter is relevant throughout the Bill. That is amendment No. 29.

Amendment No. 30 is on the same section, although it might not arise as much in respect of fishing vessels. Amendment No. 33 relates to reduced mobility. I have tabled other amendments in this respect. If we are making rules, then the purpose of amendment No. 33 is to categorise vessels under flags. It would provide an extra ability to keep tabs on trade and traders. The Irish Ferries problem had a considerable impact on many of the north side's sea workers. It was deplorable. Amendment No. 41 is the final amendment in this grouping and relates to the application of protection rules.

At the start of this discussion, I gave my reasons for asking that the issue of flags of convenience be treated seriously. A body that has never appeared before the joint committee is the maritime development board, an interesting outfit. We were trying to encourage other countries to flag out of Ireland, but we are a serious maritime country. Perhaps the Minister will brief us at some stage on what we have done in this respect.

My amendments are intended to try to deter the misuse of flags and outrageous cases of worker treatment.

I will briefly address the Deputy's last point on the Irish Maritime Development Office, IMDO. I will be delighted to provide a briefing on it, its work and the expansion it is trying to create.

How many ships do we have flying the tricolour?

At this stage, 36. We will provide the briefing and I am sure the IMDO will be delighted to appear before the committee, if required.

Amendment No. 4 might have the opposite effect to the one desired by the Deputy. I understand where he is coming from, as he is trying to ensure that the highest standards pertain across all sectors. In this case, we are discussing construction rules and so on. However, proposing that "the flag under which the vessel is registered" be one of the matters to which regard must be had when categorising vessels into classes for the purposes of making regulations and rules under the various sections of the Bill is not a good idea, as we should not make a distinction on the basis of flags. The same requirement should apply to all vessels under a flag, be it a flag of convenience or otherwise. If we start specifying that they must be under some flag or other, it will only cause us difficulty.

While I accept the principle of the Deputy's comments, inserting the phrase would not be helpful to achieving his and our aims. For this reason, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

I still believe it is an area we should examine. We should be vigilant of the different types of ship to which we referred. I suppose one could use the word "ownership". I see the Minister's point, but we need to start moving on this issue. It is the type of initiative Ireland could take, given our maritime tradition. Perhaps we would strike a blow for much better conditions for workers if we inserted this provision into legislation. For the moment, I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, line 13, to delete "with."." and substitute the following:

"with.

(8) In this section, other than subsection (1)(b) "passenger steamer" includes a "passenger ship" within the meaning of section 2(1) of the Act of 1992.".".

The purpose of this amendment is to provide clarity and certainty and to avoid confusion in the use of certain terms. For the purposes of passenger vessel construction rules, the amendment makes clear that the term "passenger steamer" includes a vessel defined as a passenger ship under the Merchant Shipping Act 1992. Under that Act, the term "passenger ship" is narrow in that it only refers to passenger ships engaged in domestic voyages. The term "passenger steamer" covers passenger vessels that undertake domestic voyages and those that engage in international voyages.

The number of ships over 500 gross tonnes under the Irish flag is actually 42.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 7, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 8.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 11 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, line 22, after "installation" to insert "including full microwave and video links".

As a lay person viewing the legislation, I wondered whether one way to improve worker and safety conditions would be to ensure a full communications system. During our debate on a previous section of the Bill, we discussed how theGreen Dragon had been racing 700 miles off Ireland’s coast in the Volvo Ocean Race. The Acting Chairman might remember how, one night, it was able to communicate with “The Late Late Show” and we could watch the video link.

This would be an important step. Ships enjoy a long history of naval law and they have independent legal characters and so on, but I wondered whether we needed to broaden this section, given modern communications. Within European waters, for example, why should there not be full communication with everyone? Why should a master, staff member or anyone else not be able to communicate via a video link on a telephone or whatever? Should we extend the definition, which might be too narrow?

Amendment No. 11 is more or less similar. I was searching for the words to make it comprehensive. By stating "microwave and video links", I meant seeing and talking with people about safety and other ship issues. Why should they be in a different world?

The Bill is drafted to meet precisely what the Deputy is trying to achieve. The term "radio installation" is regarded as a generic term that covers all of the areas in the amendment, namely, video, microwave, satellite and so on. To a lay person, "radio installation" makes one think of twisting the knobs on a little device, but I assure the Deputy that the intent of his amendment is fully met by the use of the generic term "radio installation".

Is the Minister sure that someone will not mount a legal challenge to it?

I am certain it is a generic term and means any form of communication.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 9, to delete lines 33 to 36 and substitute the following:

"(3) Any survey carried out on a ship to which this section applies in accordance with rules made under subsection (1)(c) is a survey for the purposes of section 271(1) and 272 (as applied by section 27(2) of the Act of 1952 and section 3(4) of the Act of 1966) of the Principal Act.”.

This is a technical amendment, correcting a typographical error in the text of section 15 so that the references to subsection 1(b) are read as subsection 1(c) and to expand the reference to section 272 to refer to its application under other statutes.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 10, 12, 13, 16, 19, 20, 24, 25, 27, 40 and 43 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 10, line 43, after "€100,000" to insert the following:

"or ten percent of annual turnover whichever is greater".

The maximum fine on summary conviction is €5,000. Conviction on indictment is set at a fine not exceeding €100,000. From reading Commercial Court judgments in this jurisdiction and abroad, I note that the formula of a certain figure or 10% of annual turnover, whichever is greater, is the ultimate sanction. We can hammer the owners of the shipping company that seriously misbehaves. I ask the Minister to consider this. One could consider 10% of turnover being more equitable if one inserts the clause "whichever is the greater". It could mean that someone could pay a lower fine depending on turnover. In general terms, for a major company, it would be a significant fine, particularly for repeat offenders.

The other amendments are similar. Amendment No. 12 concerns the surveyor and the support received from the owner and master. Amendment No. 13 concerns the section dealing with tracking and navigation. Once again it sets a maximum fine. Amendment No. 16 concerns the increase in fines where the Minister has increased the fine. For the same reason, the Minister should consider the 10% of turnover sum.

Amendment No. 19 concerns conviction on indictment and fines. Amendments Nos. 16, 19 and 20 are core amendments. We should increase the fines. Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 relate to the cargo ship construction rules. Amendment No. 27 relates to cargo ship safety. The sum of 10% of turnover would be a reasonable fine. Amendment No. 40 concerns outrageous bad performance in respect of safety in a section towards the end of the Bill. Amendment No. 43 concerns fire protection. Under these rules for these major offences, possibly leading to a maritime disaster, the fine should not be €100,000 but 10% of turnover.

I examined this and, as a lay person, I think it has its merits as a deterrent. I have discussed it in detail with officials who in turn discussed with the Parliamentary Counsel, who did a survey of fines in this area. The difficulties that arise in trying to implement this would outweigh the benefits and deterrents, not least given the danger that going along this particular route for all of these offences means people would fold up their business and go somewhere else to set up again. It would create an anomaly and the concept of 10% annual turnover involves a major burden of calculation for the courts.

In the previous role of the Minister, we discussed the formation of ComReg. The regulator in the UK, Ofcom, has a formula when a radio station or a telecoms provider does something seriously wrong. In the case of this Bill, where the surveyor has asked the owner to fix the ship in terms of navigation and tracking, and this is a global, billion dollar industry, if it is good enough in the communications industry and works as a regulatory measure, surely it can work here. We are considering all these aspects of vessels.

I am not saying it cannot be done in respect of certain offences but asking whether introducing this burden on the courts is a good idea. Deputy Broughan refers to a specific regulator having access to accounts and so on. Here, we are talking about someone being prosecuted for a safety issue, the matter coming before the courts and courts making a decision. If the courts find a person guilty, they must impose a fine of 10% of annual turnover and must then try to establish what annual turnover amounts to, what qualifies as turnover and what does not.

One only needs the last company reports and one can fine them.

One could end up with a fine of less than €100,000. I will examine this in respect of safety. Even if it is not 10% it could be a substantial monetary fine. I will examine this before the debate on Report Stage. As a general principle, it is not appropriate for these other offences.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 13 not moved.
Section 9 agreed to.
Section 10 agreed to.
SECTION 11.

Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 17, 18, 21, 22 and 45 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 14, paragraph (b), line 31, to delete “€500” and substitute “€5,000”.

These concern summary prosecutions. I do not see why there is not scope for the maximum summary fine of €5,000. Again, looking back at the old Act, they could be fairly serious offences. Amendment No. 15 is similar, as are amendments Nos. 17, 18, 21, 22 and 45. It is to bring it up to the minimum of €5,000.

We are taking the opportunity to update fines throughout a range of sections in the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952. The advice we received is that fines on summary conviction must be fair, reasonable and proportionate. In trying to decide what is fair, reasonable and proportionate account was taken of the relative proportion of the original fines and that has been carried through in these sections. Will the Deputy accept that we have updated them and we have tried to make them fair, reasonable and proportionate?

One wonders as matters are left for a long time but I will withdraw the amendment for the moment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 15 to 22, inclusive, not moved.
Section 11 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, inclusive, not moved.
Section 12 agreed to.
Section 13 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.
Section 14 agreed to.
SECTION 15.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 21, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:

"(a) in section 2(1), by substituting for the definition of “the Minister” the following:

" ‘Minister' means Minister for Transport;",".

This amendment is of a technical and administrative nature to update the reference to "Minister" in the Merchant Shipping Act 1992 to facilitate the making of regulations under the Act. We referred to this earlier and I propose to introduce a new Part 3 on Report Stage to give further effect to the SOLAS convention on maritime safety and include sections on chemical tanker rules, liquified gas carriage rules, nuclear carriage rules, high-speed craft rules, tendering operations regulations, safe manning regulations and unsafe ships and certain consequential amendments that would arise for other sections. Procedurally, I am advised that the way to progress these issues is on Report Stage. They are important issues of which the members of the committee will be aware through their early circulation. We will need to give these some time on Report Stage.

From our point of view, we have examined the text of what the Minister proposes on chemical tankers; liquified gas; nuclear carriage, which is of interest to everybody; high-speed craft which are also of interest to nearly everyone; tenders; safe manning and unsafe ships. I have stated that it is like another Bill. Must we come up with amendments on the spot on Report Stage if we want to make changes?

Procedurally, I understand the Deputy can table amendments on Report Stage.

It just comes in and it is amended straight away.

Yes. All of this has to do with the SOLAS safety convention.

Why did the Minister not include it all at the start?

We had been working on this matter. The original intent was to produce a separate Bill but during last summer's recess my diligent officials did much work on it and felt they were in a position to introduce it here. It updates many of the conventions we have. I know the Deputy does not have a difficulty with the principle involved. It will enhance safety for everybody. It will update all of the conventions and it is time they were updated. Both Deputies are aware that we will have an International Maritime Organisation audit in September and having these in place will be helpful. Deputies are free to have any briefing, detail or engagement with officials that they want. They have a free hand because I do not think this is a——

I appreciate that people have been helpful to us but it is difficult when one is dealing with a Bill and another one appears around the corner. It also happened in the area of criminal justice; I heard Deputy Rabbitte speak about a similar issue. It might have been better to have had two Bills or to have waited for one big Bill.

As the Deputy knows, part of the problem is that it can be difficult to get Bills through the House. I accept that if a Bill is politically contentious it is not a practice we should follow but this is not contentious.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 29 to 31, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 15, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

This is where the new Part 3 will be inserted. Will we receive a new Bill or a large number of amendments?

Initially, it will be amendments.

So we will not see the Bill until it is passed.

All the relevant changes will be made here.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 16 agreed to.
SECTION 17.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 24, subsection (1), line 9, after "vessels" to insert "fully".

The purpose of this amendment is to address the issue of accessibility. On a ferry, there must be a balance between having a very safe ship or boat and facilitating passengers. For example, there must be safety features for people who want to go out on deck. In general terms, we should include the additional word to make passenger vessels fully accessible for people with reduced mobility. All of the work we have done in the House on access should apply in a reasonable way at sea as well as on land.

I do not disagree with the principle of the amendment but it will give rise to practical difficulties. My Department has drawn up guidelines for accessible maritime passenger transport in conjunction with the National Disability Authority and these will be published in the coming week. The guidelines include a range of practical advice and information and are designed as a key support to all who are involved in providing maritime passenger transport services. A variety of improvements can be made to existing vessels to increase their accessibility, including simple adaptations such as signage, handrails and tactile surfaces.

Unlike other modes of transport, in which regard we are moving more quickly to introduce accessibility criteria, marine vessels can have long lifespans of up to 30 years. As the existing fleet of vessels includes a large proportion of older ships, the scope for major physical alterations is limited due to design and safety features. For that reason, it is not feasible to insert the word "fully" into the subsection. That has been accepted in our discussions with the various disability groups. We are going as far as we can in this regard and it will be possible to amend the wording over a period of time even if we cannot do so at present. I therefore ask the Deputy to withdraw his amendment.

Could the current provision result in a decision that a lift or ramp was unnecessary on all decks of a boat? I am not implying that somebody could be striding about on the deck and I am aware of the issues that can arise in that regard.

I understand these facilities are being incorporated into newer vessels but difficulties arise in respect of existing vessels. I will investigate whether we can include a phrase that requires new vessels to provide these facilities once the existing fleet is replaced.

I acknowledge that lifts, ramps, steps and stairs are included.

We could include a phrase like "as fully as practicable".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 33 not moved.

Is Deputy O'Dowd moving amendment No. 34?

Of course, that is why I have been sitting here quietly. I move amendment No. 34:

In page 25, subsection (6), between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

"(g) consideration to be taken of local, economical and fleet size.”.

The Minister undertook to provide a reply to the question I raised at the beginning of the meeting and I ask when I will receive it.

It is a standard provision when a Bill contains any monetary provision, in this case the fees for the issue of certificates. Essentially, it is merely a notice to people that the Bill involves monetary matters.

It is included today purely for procedural reasons.

Yes. The Department of the Taoiseach has to sign off all monetary Bills.

In some respects, my amendment argues against Deputy Broughan's amendment. A small vessel plied for hire during a particular season, such as the summer months, may not earn sufficient income to pay for the adaptations required by the Bill. If vessels with proper disability facilities are available from the same location, we propose that consideration be given to issues such as local economics and fleet size.

Deputy O'Dowd argues the opposite side of the coin to Deputy Broughan's amendment but he makes a legitimate point nevertheless. The provisions of the reduced mobility regulations will apply generally but we will also have regard for the specific classes of the vehicles involved. Sections 17(1) and 17(13)(a) and (b) provide ample opportunity for representations in respect of particular circumstances. The same would apply in respect of amendment No.35, if we are discussing them together.

We are discussing amendment No. 34 on its own.

Is the provision for representation already included?

Yes. Representations and decisions can be made on the issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 25, lines 26 to 30, to delete subsection (12).

We are laying down rules to protect citizens and mariners with disabilities but subsection (12) provides: "The Minister may exempt from all or any of the provisions of reduced mobility regulations, on such terms and conditions as he or she sees fit, any passenger vessel or any class or classes of passenger vessel, having regard to the nature of the vessel and the use to which it is put." This appears to undermine the earlier clause on increasing access.

I repeat what I said earlier. Deputy Broughan takes one view of this issue and Deputy O'Dowd another. The provision is designed to allow flexibility in respect of heritage ships and vintage vessels. It is intended for specific cases which are brought to the Minister's attention rather than for use across entire classes of vessels. It is considered preferable to allow some discretion so that we do not have to apply the rules rigidly even to one-off situations.

I withdraw the amendment, although I may revisit the matter on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 25, subsection (13)(b), line 40, after “representations” to insert the following:

"and after the approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas".

This amendment proposes to put any regulation made by the Minister under this section before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I would refer the Deputy to my previous response.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
Section 17 agreed to.
SECTION 18.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 26, subsection (2), between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:

"(b) shall lay the draft of the code before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval,”.

This amendment pertains to the code of practice for owners, masters, crew and other persons. It proposes to put the draft of any such code before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval. It is similar to the preceding amendment.

Is the Deputy happy with the Minister's previous response in that case?

It is a slightly different issue.

I am not aware of any other precedent in legislation to lay codes of practice before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval. Section 18(2)(a) makes it mandatory for the Minister to publish a draft of a code of practice or sections of a code of practice on the Department’s website and in such manner as considered appropriate and to give persons one month’s notice. That period can be extended to two months to make written representations on the draft code.

The amendment proposes to engage the Houses of the Oireachtas in an approval process and would be in conflict with the provision of subsection 2(b). The provisions for prior consultation are adequate and Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas have the opportunity to engage in that consultation process. I will consider making that more specific if the committee wishes to examine the codes and make a written submission. That would not be any harm and I could include the provision on Report Stage.

I would welcome that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 18 agreed to.
Sections 19 to 23, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 24.

Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 30, subsection (2)(a), line 32, after “crews” to insert “or for environmental protection”.

This is the section on raising sunken vessels and pertaining to how the Minister may cause a vessel to be raised. It relates to the conditions which he considers necessary, including the safety of the vessels or crews. I want to add a provision for environmental protection.

I was thinking of a number of locations around the country, including Bantry, where a colleague, the great Deputy Paddy Sheehan, campaigned for years about theBardini Reefer. That boat was marooned in Bantry Bay for a long time. The amendment adds the term “environmental protection” and the other amendment would allow the Minister to cause a vessel to be raised if he considered it necessary for salvaging a vessel of special cultural and historical importance. I am thinking of a vessel very much associated with our neck of the woods, and Howth in particular, the Asgard II. People were dismayed that the replacement for the historical training ship ended up in the Bay of Biscay. I was going to say the late Minister for Defence but I mean the last Minister for Defence did not——

I hope he is not listening to this debate.

He is probably not.

I would say he is planning his comeback somewhere in Limerick. If a ship has a special cultural and historical importance, a ship may be raised. We are fortunate to have the other ship from north Kerry in Dublin and having tall training ships is very important for our young people and the maritime tradition. Perhaps the Minister might reflect and include both of these issues.

Amendment No. 38 proposes to introduce environmental protection as grounds on which the Minister for Transport may cause a sunken vessel to be raised. We already have comprehensive legislation for this purpose. It needs to be comprehensive because it involves a range of organisations.

One just needs to ask Deputy Sheehan, who spent about 15 years here talking about raising that vessel in Bantry.

It is the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act 1993, which brought the International Convention on Salvage from 1989 into national law. The legislation focuses on environmental protection.

Amendment No. 39 is very worthy in its own way but this legislation deals with the possible dangers to merchant shipping from sunken vessels. The emphasis in this Bill is on maritime safety and it would not be appropriate to include salvaging a vessel of special cultural and historical importance as a sole ground for raising a vessel. It would be more appropriate for an amendment to be put into the monuments Bill or similar heritage legislation. I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendments on that ground.

What happened to the insurance money in that case anyway? What was the final decision?

I have no idea. I am sure it was paid.

It was going to cost more to raise the vessel than what it was worth. Is the Deputy withdrawing the amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 39 not moved.
Section 24 agreed to.
Sections 25 to 30, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 40 not moved.
Section 31 agreed to.
Section 32 agreed to.
SECTION 33.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 36, subsection (3), between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

"(e) the flag under which the vessel is registered;”.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 2; Níl, 6.

  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.

Níl

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 37, subsection (6)(b)(iii), line 12, after “protection” to insert “management and operation”.

This concerns the fire protection rules, operation, regulation and maintenance of the ship including instructions, training and drills and the manner of carrying dangerous cargoes. I wanted to add the phrase "management and operation" to apply to the vehicle decks. From my experience of that part of a ship it would seem useful to extend the definition to the total operation rather than have a vague reference to the protection of the vehicle decks of the ship. There would be a fire safety role in the actual management and operation.

The Deputy refers to the management and operation of vehicle decks but I assure him that operational functions of this nature are governed by safety management codes. It is not necessary to include these functions in this section which deals specifically with fire protection of vehicle decks, as the Deputy outlined. What he is trying to achieve is covered already, governed by safety management codes.

Would the Minister not think that with smaller ferries around the coast there might be aspects of management to which this would be relevant? The Minister says it is already in a code.

If something is wrong then it is already breaking the law.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 43 not moved.
Section 33 agreed to.
SECTION 34.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 38, subsection (1), lines 21 and 22, to delete all words from and including ", or" in line 21 down to and including "kept," in line 22.

This refers to the log book and I seek a comment from the Minister on this matter. The requirement is that the master will enter into the official log book information about boat drills, other safety appliances for protection, rules and so on or, if there is no official log book, that other records should be kept. Why provide that cop-out? Why not simply put in place an instruction to put it in the log?

I agree with the Deputy that there should be a record of some type kept of all this. That, in fact, is the practice. The provision in section 34 is to provide that if there is no official log book a record must be kept anyway of every boat drill and fire drill practice and of checks made to life-saving appliances. This provision would make mandatory that a record must be kept even in the absence of an official log book. It has merit to be retained. Therefore, I call on the Deputy to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 45 not moved.
Section 34 agreed to.
Section 35 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 39, before section 36, but in Part 5, to insert the following new section:

36.—(1) A person shall not pilot or attempt to pilot a mechanically propelled vessel while he or she is under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vessel.

(2) A person shall not pilot or attempt to pilot a mechanically propelled vessel while there is present in his or her body a quantity of alcohol such that, within 3 hours after so piloting or attempting to pilot, the concentration of alcohol in his or her blood will exceed a concentration of 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

(3) A person shall not pilot or attempt to pilot a mechanically propelled vessel while there is present in his or her body a quantity of alcohol such that, within 3 hours after so piloting or attempting to pilot, the concentration of alcohol in his or her urine will exceed a concentration of 67 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

(4) A person shall not pilot or attempt to pilot a mechanically propelled vessel while there is present in his or her body a quantity of alcohol such that, within 3 hours after so piloting or attempting to pilot, the concentration of alcohol in his or her breath will exceed a concentration of 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath.

(5) A person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.".

This is a very important amendment because at present the legislation does not include provision in respect of being in charge of a vessel while drunk or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is a very serious issue, which has been reported on internationally and nationally. Last year, following a tragic accident of some years previously, the Marine Casualty Investigation Board recommended that the Government should introduce legislation to ban people from being in charge of a vessel under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The recommendations made were very clear. It recommended that the legislation would be enacted by the Government. In this new section, Fine Gael proposes to apply the same provisions in the Minister's Road Traffic Bill, which is currently going through the Houses, to vessels at sea or on water. This could be very significant because it would ensure no one would be under the influence or if people were under the influence of alcohol or drugs while in charge of a vessel, they would be amenable to the law, especially if there was an accident. There is a possibility of catastrophic damage in terms of property and, more important, human beings in terms of injuries or deaths that could result from a person being in charge of such a vessel under the influence of drugs or alcohol and this is why it is a very serious issue.

The recommendations made the point that the International Maritime Organisation has addressed this issue. Since 1995, it has had in place a regulation as follows:

Drug and alcohol abuse directly affects the fitness and ability of a seafarer to perform watchkeeping duties. Seafarers found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol should not be permitted to perform watchkeeping duties until they are no longer impaired in their ability to perform those duties.

It is a very serious issue. We accept, acknowledge and support the legislation the Minister is introducing in respect of vehicles on roads and I call on the Minister to incorporate this amendment into the legislation. The resulting benefits would be numerous and significant. It would be opportune to do this now and the fact that the Marine Casualty Investigation Board has recommended this course of action adds to the significance of it. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board is an authoritative voice in this respect and the provision is in line with international opinion and regulations.

One might argue how to enforce the provision. We do not suggest the legislation should provide for a policeman on every boat but we maintain that if the legislation is in place then there is authority and power and if someone is involved in an incident then at least the legislation would clearly apply. It could also apply as a deterrent to people who may be under the influence and the law would be clear to them. Perhaps the departmental officials could clarify the matter. As I understand the position at present, if someone is in charge of a vessel and if he or she is under the influence of drink, he or she may not necessarily be breaking the law. If that is the case, it is a serious issue.

The provision would impact on other countries or cases in which vessels from other countries may be in our waters. Others may have a different drinks culture to ours. This amendment would bring into effect a no-booze clause, for want of a better phrase, in terms of people in charge of vessels at sea and I urge the Minister to support the amendment.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the Deputy's amendment, but he has hit on some of the difficulties in respect of including the amendment in the Bill. I realise it reflects the blood, breath and urine thresholds for alcohol concentration proposed under the new Road Traffic Bill under discussion at present. As the Deputy correctly noted, seafarer policy on drugs and alcohol is being developed in the forum of the International Maritime Organisation, IMO.

The Maritime Safety Act 2005 provides for a range of offences. The master or crew of an Irish ship who operate a vessel in Irish waters or operate an Irish ship in waters anywhere are prohibited from being impaired by or under the influence of alcohol or drugs or a combination of these intoxicating substances. As the Deputy pointed out, the IMO has undertaken a comprehensive review of the safety, training and certification for watchkeepers, STCW, convention and code. As part of that review at the 40th session of the STCW convention, Germany presented a proposal related to the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. It recommended the implementation of a mandatory alcohol limit on board a sea-going ship of 0.05% blood alcohol, a prohibition from consuming alcohol within four hours prior to serving as a member of the watch or being on call and the provision for adequate random tests on board ships under the responsibility of the master by means of devices for estimating blood alcohol content from a breath sample. Ireland supported that STCW 40th session proposal. We expect it will be endorsed at the diplomatic conference in Manila in June 2010. If it is endorsed, it will be presented to the next meeting of the IMO assembly. We hope it will be endorsed and we support it. We will wait to see what policy will emerge from the international community of seafarers. Rather than going it alone in respect of this matter we would prefer to be in a position to apply an international standard.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the point of view expressed by the Deputy. However, the advice I have received is that it would not be as easy to provide for as in the case of road safety because gardaí can be placed in different locations on the roads and so on. I am somewhat inclined by the Deputy's argument and it may be possible to see if there is a practical way of including this in the legislation while awaiting the outcome of the diplomatic conference. It may be possible to put in place a commencement order, if it is similar to what will emerge. Then we could go ahead rather than having to wait for further legislation. If the Deputy will bear with me, I will examine this in the context of Report Stage to establish if, perhaps, we could include it and have it ready to go.

Is the Minister saying basically that he will incorporate it into the legislation but that he will commence it once the legislation is passed and that it would be contained in the legislation when it goes through the process?

If it complies then——

It would be a significant advance. The key point I made, which the Minister is taking on board, is that the Marine Casualty Investigation Board recommends that legislation be initiated. If that is the case——

Is the Deputy withdrawing the amendment?

It is not withdrawn; it is accepted.

I am not accepting the amendment, rather, I accept the principle. I will revert to the Deputy on Report Stage. He can table the amendment at that stage.

I accept the principle. If we want to table an amendment on Report Stage we will have the opportunity to do so. I withdraw the amendment based on the Minister's commitment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
Section 36 agreed to.
SECTION 37.

Amendments Nos. 47 to 49, inclusive, are out of order, as we have discussed.

Amendments Nos. 47 to 49, inclusive not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 37 stand part of the Bill."

Is there any way we can make any movement on legislation?

I indicated previously that we will proceed with a vessels registrations Bill. I understand it is the next Bill which will be published. In that, we will try to make provisions for this matter. The system is similar to the RTOL system, whereby one can stipulate conditions and so on. We will deal with this in that Bill.

Have the heads of a Bill been drawn up?

Heads of a Bill are currently being drawn up. They have not gone to Government yet.

Will it be more difficult for somebody who operates here to sail under a flag of convenience?

Let us examine the heads of the Bill. It will be easier to do some of the things the Deputy requires regarding health and safety, which is of concern to him. We will table amendments to this section on Report Stage.

We will table amendments to sections 38 and 39 on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 38 and 39 agreed to.
SECTION 40.

Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 42, to delete lines 25 to 27 and substitute the following:

"(ii) with the consent of the Minister for Finance, the fees to be charged for the issue, recording and administration of such,",".

Section 40 provides for an amendment to the Merchant Shipping (Certification of Seamen) Act 1979. Sections 3 and 8 provide for an enabling power to prescribe, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, that fees may be charged. Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 provide a consistent text in each to cover issue recording and administration functions. I ask for the support of the committee for these amendments and will table further amendments to section 40 on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 51: In page 42, to delete lines 35 to 38 and substitute the following:

"(ii) prescribing, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, the fees to be charged for the issue, recording and administration of documents under paragraph (a).”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 40, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I have one point on the previous Marine Casualty Investigation Board. To what does that refer? Does it validate reports? Was it a legally constituted body? Did we pass legislation on that before?

It confirms acts done by the MCIB or others acting on its behalf, to give confirmation that the acts done for the purposes of the MCIB are not invalidated on the grounds of the invalidity of the establishment order, which is Statutory Instrument 290 of 2002, or that the board did not have a quorum in the period between 25 March 2003 and 29 June 2007 as a result of the board not having been formally appointed once the defective commencement was rectified. In essence what happened was that the initial commencement order of 5 June 2002 in respect of the sections of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act was found to be defective due to a typographical error.

Who was the Minister?

I was the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the time.

The Minister is safe.

I am safe. To remedy the situation a new commencement order was made on 25 March 2003 and a separate order was on that date to establish the MCIB and, in correcting this situation, the need to re-appoint the board members in 2003 under the properly commenced Act was overlooked. Therefore, technically the board had no valid quorum of members until re-appointments in 2007.

Can that be done retrospectively?

Yes, apparently it can. We have received advice on the matter.

On another matter in which the Deputy has an interest, we will amend the Harbours Act 1996 on Report Stage. If that amendment is accepted it would give rise to an amendment to the collective citation provisions in section 1. The Deputy and I discussed the amendment and I gave him a commitment on it.

That concerns amendments Nos. 52 and 53, which the Acting Chairman has ruled out of order. On pilots, as the amendment stands I do not understand if it covers the older retirement age. Does it state that it does not matter what age one is and that if one is fit enough one can do the job?

Yes. Rather than having the issue of age——

So one can be 70 years of age and fit enough to do the job.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 41 agreed to.
Title agreed to.

I thank the Minister, his officials and Deputies from both sides of the House.

Bill reported with amendments.