Merchant Shipping (Certification of Seamen) Bill, 1979: Second Stage.

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Is é príomh-chuspóir an Bhille seo cumhachtaí reachtúla a thabhairt dom chun rialacháin a dhéanamh maidir le deimhniúchán mairnéalach agus gnéithe a bhaineann leis sin. Is é aidhm na rialachán atá molta forálacha do dhéanamh i dtaobh gnéithe áirithe den loingeas cheannaíochta in Eirinn. Tá sé ar aigne, mar shampla, go sonrófar ins na rialacháin atá beartaithe líon na n-oifigeach cáilithe is cóir do bheith ar bord loinge; go leagfar síos caighdeáin áirithe inniúlachta i gcomhair oifigeach loinge; agus go ndéanfar socruithe le haghaidh scrúdaithe agus eisiúint deimhnithe inniúlachta. Bille réasúnta simplí atá i gceist. Baineann an chuid eile den Bhille le gnéithe mar chostaisi, eisceachtaí, coireanna agus píonóis, agus fiosrúchain maidir le hiompar oifigeach loinge.

This Bill is a straight-forward enabling measure. It empowers me, as Minister for Tourism and Transport, to make regulations specifying the number of qualified officers which a ship must carry; to specify standards of competence to be attained and other conditions to be satisfied by officers; and to make provision for the conduct of examinations and for the issue of certificates of competency. The remaining provisions of the Bill cover such matters as exemptions, offences, penalties, repeals and inquiries into an officer's conduct.

The requirement that officers acting in certain capacities on board certain ships must hold certificates of competency is, in origin and in essence, a safety requirement. An insufficiency of competent officers on board a ship might imperil the safety of the ship, the crew, the passengers and the cargo. The existing statutory requirements governing the certification of seamen on board Irish ships and on foreign ships carrying passengers between places in the State have their basis in the Merchant Ship ping Act, 1894 as amended by the Act of 1906. In recent years it has become evident that the existing legislative provisions in relation to the certification of ships' officers required up-dating to enable the merchant shipping industry to keep pace with modern developments. The aim and tendency of the modern shipping industry are to have larger ships with more automation and smaller, more adaptable and more highly trained crews. The maritime authorities of most mainland European countries have in recent years altered the manning requirements of their national fleets, thus giving them a competitive economic edge over the Irish and, indeed, the British merchant shipping industry. This has been recognised in the findings of two committees of inquiry into aspects of the British shipping industry, the Pearson Report 1967 and the Rochdale Report 1970.

The British authorities have already made arrangements for the introduction of a new updated certification structure for deck officers for merchant ships under regulations made in 1977 and 1978. The new UK regulations will become compulsory from 1 September 1981. In the meantime the British authorities are operating a dual certificate system with the old certificates under the 1894 Act and the equivalent new certificates being awarded to successful candidates.

There is reciprocal recognition of certificates of competency granted by Ireland, Britain, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and New Zealand. These reciprocal recognition arrangements provide considerable employment opportunities for Irish ships' officers particularly in the British merchant fleet. Having regard to the small Irish merchant fleet, it is desirable that these employment opportunities should continue to be available. This requires that the reciprocal recognition of Irish certificates of competency by Britain should continue. To achieve this it is necessary to move in concert with developments in Britain and, therefore, enabling legislation on the lines proposed in this Bill is required without delay to facilitate the introduction here of a new system of certificates of competency with whatever adaptations may be appropriate to Irish conditions.

I propose to make the necessary regulations for the new ships' officer structure and related matters as soon as possible after the passage of this Bill. The shipping sector here—through the medium of the Irish Chamber of Shipping—have already submitted very useful comments to my Department on certain aspects of the proposals and I will be taking these into account in making the new regulations. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the valuable and informed observations which are submitted on a regular basis to my Department by the Irish Chamber of Shipping on shipping matters.

Associated with the revised structure of certificates of competency, the British authorities have also re-defined the "trading areas" which govern the manning complement of British ships. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, provides for "foreign-going ships" and "home-trade ships". There is also the law at present in the case of Irish ships. Under the British Merchant Shipping (Certification of Deck Officers) Regulations, 1977, the trading areas have been re-defined. The old home-trade limits have been replaced by two trading areas, namely, the near continental trading area and the middle trading area. I intend in the proposed new regulations to re-define the trading areas governed by the 1894 Act as they apply to Irish-registered ships. While the re-defined areas will probably follow fairly closely the British precedent, the matter is being examined and discussions have been taking place with the Irish merchant shipping industry with a view to meeting as far as possible any special requirements of the industry.

The law governing merchant shipping here is extensive and complex. It is, in addition, based on legislation which in many cases goes back a long time. My Department have been endeavouring to up-date and codify the various enactments involved, but this is a slow process as Deputies will appreciate. The present Bill may be regarded as a further and significant step in this updating process.

The provisions of the present Bill provide a basis for the continued development of the Irish merchant shipping sector. The Bill will enable us to move into line with international practice especially in the UK and it will also facilitate the preservation of the reciprocity arrangements I have mentioned in relation to the recognition of certificates of competency. I am happy, therefore, to recommend the Bill to the House.

As the Minister stated, the Bill is quite straightforward and contains no very tremendous controversial points. Obviously, we welcome any Bill which improves the safety of ships at sea. The Bill begs the question as to what is the definition of "ship" and what size vessels are covered by the legislation here before us. Does it apply to any vessel which is registered in the State or does it apply to boats which are not even registered? I would like the Minister in his reply to endeavour to clarify that.

Section 2 of the Bill refers to ships operating from this State and between ports within the State. Does it provide that they be manned by properly trained personnel and sufficient numbers of properly trained personnel? Does it make provision for ships coming from other states having a deficiency in personnel and in training? That must give rise to considerable concern. The section says:

2.—This Act applies to every ship registered in the State under the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1968, and also to any ship registered elsewhere which carries passengers between places in the State or on voyages which begin and end at the same place in the State and on which the ship calls at no place outside the State.

Why is there not some provision to cover a ship which starts its voyage in another state and finishes its trip in this State? It is obvious that a number of nations throughout the world have standards which are not satisfactory and which must have caused serious accidents and disasters at sea and will cause others in the future unless something is done. The Minister has said in his speech that there is reciprocal recognition of certificates of competency granted by Ireland, Britain, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and New Zealand. That is all very fine, but it leaves a huge vacuum. What about the hundreds of other states which are operating maritime fleets whose standards obviously are not too high? We are tagging along with British standards, as is stated in the Bill and in the Minister's statement. Those standards are probably the highest in the world, but what about Liberia and Panama, for instance, two countries which are notorious for operating shipping fleets under flags of convenience? I have grave doubts about the competence of their crews, their qualifications and their numbers.

It has been stated in shipping circles in this country over the years that our shipping companies operate at a great disadvantage in that our rules governing the manning of ships are so stringent that we are quite uneconomic when it comes to competing with other countries such as those I have mentioned which do not have the same stringent manning regulations and thus can operate at a far lesser cost. Until such time as there is an international agreement between all maritime countries—all countries for that matter; we have heard, for instance, of the Swiss navy and whether it is fictitious or factual I do not know—which operate fleets of ships ensuring that the same standards operate within all those fleets, the situation will remain very unsatisfactory.

In recent years we have had a whole series of disasters involving ships, in particular oil tankers, not too far off our coast; in fact some of them ended up on our coast. This must cause concern. Until an international convention such as I have mentioned is drawn up to ensure a uniform level of qualifications and of manning amongst ships, any ship which does not reach the standards that we are setting by means of this Bill should not be allowed into our waters. It is about time that the responsible maritime nations of the world got together to see that this type of action is taken to safeguard their own shipping fleets and the people of other maritime countries who would be threatened by the consequence of any major disaster, principally pollution. The disasters which have occurred must bring into question the competence of the people operating those ships. Liberia and Panama seem to operate a considerable percentage of the world's tonnage of oil tankers and if their standards are not up to scratch it is high time that something was done about that.

This country is a member of the InterGovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. I ask the Minister to use his good offices in that organisation to see that uniformity is brought about. We cannot afford to have aTorrey Canyon-or an Amoco Cadiz-type disaster though we had some lesser problems in recent years. Apart from the environmental damage that would result from a major disaster, the cost to the country would be immense and we are inviting that type of disaster by not insisting that those who operate ships in our waters comply with our regulations. Last year there was an incident in which an oil tanker, admittedly small, was damaged after hitting rocks off the west coast and immediately being ordered out of British waters and into Irish waters, subsequently finishing up off the Irish coast. More recently, in September last, there was a collision off the Wicklow coast between an oil tanker and a cargo ship. Luckily the oil tanker was empty, because otherwise we would have had a major pollution problem around our coast.

People in shipping circles are not convinced, and I do not think that the Minister is convinced either, that the people operating ships in our waters have the necessary qualifications or that the vessels are being manned at the proper level. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to ensure that there is set up an international convention so that we might ensure that nobody entering our waters would risk disaster merely because they do not apply the proper safety regulations or do not have the proper trained personnel or manning numbers. The reason for foreign countries being able to compete at rates much lower than ours is that they are not providing either the proper type of trained personnel or personnel in sufficient numbers.

Great credit is due to Mr. De Courcy Ireland who has repeatedly been pointing out the hazards that have been created by the lack of proper standards and who continues to call for a proper set of standards. Obviously, there is apathy among the public in this regard. The only time there is an outcry or a demand for improved standards is when there is either a disaster or a near disaster. This is not good enough. We must ensure, by the imposition unilaterally of proper standards, that the risk of disaster in the future is eliminated in so far as possible.

Regarding the smaller type vessels, including trawlers and cruisers, I asked originally for a definition of a ship. I would imagine that any vessel registered to carry passengers or cargo could be classified as a ship but I know from experience that the standard of personnel operating boats such as cruisers or trawlers which are registered leaves much to be desired. It is surprising that there are not more accidents in this area. Quite frequently there are accidents involving such vessels off the west coast but this is not surprising when usually the outcome of an inquiry into any such accident reveals that the crew were not properly trained, that they did not have a skipper's ticket and were not able to operate the radar system or other navigational aids in the boat concerned. It is not uncommon in this age of affluence for people to have some very sophisticated equipment on board but not having the necessary training to enable them to use that equipment so that what they have in effect is a status symbol type of equipment.

Recently BIM stated that they would not give grants to people who are not qualified skippers. That is a wise decision because up to now boats have been operated by people whose training left much to be desired and which certainly was not geared to operate the equipment that is essential for those engaged in such activity. Some of these boats or ships do not have such basic equipment as flares or life-jackets. Is it fair to our lifeboat men that they should have to put to sea in extremely bad weather conditions because of the incompetency of the personnel on those boats that get into difficulty?

This legislation should extend to every boat registered in the State, be it a ship, a trawler a cruiser or anything else. It is not right that any of the life-saving service people should be put at risk to save people who fail to make the proper arrangements for safety before putting to sea. This situation was brought to our notice very strongly in August last in regard to the Fastnet yacht race. Admittedly, August is not a month in which we expect to experience storms of the magnitude experienced on that occasion, but severe gales are not unprecedented around the middle of August. When that disaster occurrred in August, the lifeboat men on the southern coast put to sea in desperate conditions to rescue dozens if not hundreds of people. Much credit is due to them for their efforts on that occasion.

Apart from the question of training and of sufficient personnel, there is also the problem of our not having a proper radio service around our coast. About 10 years ago there was a disaster involving an aircraft flying from Cork to London in which a considerable number of people were killed. Some hours had elapsed before there was an indication that the disaster had occurred and even yet nobody knows for certain where the accident occurred. The reason for this is that there was not then a sufficient radio link between the south coast of Ireland and the west coast of Great Britain. There is the same difficulty today in regard to shipping. There are blind spots around our coast where if ships run into trouble, there is no way in which a distress single can be picked up by the radio stations. We are far too dependent on Lands End and other British radio stations to do our work for us. They are the people who usually find out if a vessel is in trouble off our coast. At the time of the Fastnet disaster there was proved the need for proper radio facilities, especially off the south and east coasts. What happened then was that the signals from the boats in distress went to Lands End, from where they had to be transferred to the rescue co-ordinating centre at Shannon and from Shannon transferred to the various lifeboat stations around the coast. This operation entailed delays of minutes and in some cases of hours in effecting a rescue operation. We must ensure that there is set up a proper rescue service operation with radio stations at strategic points around the coast.

The increase in shipping and boating activities makes this Bill imperative. We cannot afford to take the risk of organised confusion which really is what we have now. The British and French authorities have gone to great lengths in the last couple of years in regard to the Channel, where they have set up a system of laneways. Ships operating in those waters must conform to very stringent regulations. We do not have a similar system but it is essential that such be introduced in the Irish Sea in particular because those waters, according to my information, are being used as a route for ships that are not put into the Channel because their equipment may not be up to the standard required by the British and French authorities.

The lame ducks in the shipping world are using the Irish Sea more and more. I am told there is no regulation of traffic there; it is getting heavier and heavier and is criss-crossing in a very dangerous fashion. The time is overdue for regulations to be made to cope with this problem. There is a constant stream of traffic from the port of Dublin and from Dún Laoghaire to Liverpool and Birkenhead, from Belfast and Larne to Stranraer, Port Patrick, Heysham and other places. It is only a matter of time before we have a serious accident or a series of accidents in the Irish Sea. As I pointed out earlier, there was an accident last September off the Wicklow coast. We must provide a proper laneway system. It is not sufficient to have our ships properly manned with trained personnel if other countries are operating a haphazard manning system with poorly trained personnel. We should see to it that these people obey our laws and regulations. Negotiations should be entered into with the British authorities to ensure that proper lanes are set out in the Irish Sea in order to reduce the possibility of accidents occurring.

The time is long overdue for us to provide a coastguard service, to watch for irregularities and dangerous practices and to be on the alert when a tragedy occurs. We are leaving far too much to chance and that should not be the case. There should be proper supervision, adequate safeguards and observation of what is going on. At the moment if an accident occurs we hear about it probably from Lands End radio station and, as a result, our rescue services then come into operation, quite often belatedly. I should like to see us operating our own safeguard systems. At the moment we are not facing up to our responsibilities in this regard.

I am perturbed about section 2. I repeat I do not believe that the ships of any country should be allowed into our territorial waters when they are not fulfilling the same stringent regulations that we are demanding of our own shipping companies.

I am pleased to speak on this measure on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Corish, our spokesperson on tourism and transport. I am also particularly pleased because there are in my constituency and in my party organisation a number of people who have talked to me about this Bill and who are working seafarers with much experience.

In his opening statement the Minister declared that this was a straightforward enabling measure. Perhaps the Minister will be in a position to confirm that it will enable us to meet the SOLAS Convention of IMCO. When the Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the EEC discussed the marine pollution convention and SOLAS, we were informed by the relevant departmental authorities that enabling legislation was required to meet the SOLAS convention. In so far as this measure enables us to do that, the Labour Party welcome it.

The whole question of shipping traffic around our coasts and the competence of those who operate that traffic is a matter of increasing concern, as Deputy Deasy outlined. Frankly, he has covered most of the points that needed to be made and there is no need to repeat them. I said yesterday that the marine resources of the State, taken in terms of the percentage of coastline which we have as a ratio of the total area of this island, are probably higher than in any other country in the EEC and any damage to those resources is potentially enormous. Last week the Minister for Finance sought a Supplementary Estimate to cover merely the inquiry costs of the Whiddy disaster.

We are talking about something that is of increasing relevance and importance to the economic and environmental life of this State and in this measure we are talking specifically about regulations which the Minister has yet to produce but which he will be empowered to enforce under this legislation. They will cover the working conditions and the safety standards of workers at sea, male and female. The Labour Party welcome the introduction of such an enabling measure. The conditions for workers at sea, as set out in the 1894 Act and in the supplementary Act introduced in the early part of this are adequate. The rights and responsibilities of such workers do not meet with modern standards and certainly they do not meet with trade union practice on land.

I note with some concern that while the Minister has consulted with the Irish Shipping Chamber he makes no similar references to the trade union counterpart. We have a developing merchant shipping sector. The most healthy part of it is the State sector—Irish Shipping declared a profit last year and the B & I shipping line are displaying vigour with regard to the development of new modes of shipping. Deputy Deasy raised the question of what constitutes a ship. Undoubtedly a jet foil would fall within that category. When drafting the regulations that will become operative under this legislation, I hope the Minister will consult with the ICTU, with the Irish Seamen's Union and with the British-based seamen's union which has a considerable number of members who are Irish nationals and to whom the question of reciprocity is important. I hope the Minister in his reply will indicate, if possible, the time-table envisaged in relation to such measures.

I think that on Committee Stage the interpretation of section 2 may be clarified. It appears to exclude a large number of merchant ships that come into our waters on the grounds that they are not registered within the State and are not regularly plying passenger traffic between an Irish port and another port. I am assuming that the second category of vessels would be regular passenger vessels such as the Le Havre-Rosslare ferry or the B & I ferry. In the latter case it is Irish registered but its counterpart would be the British rail ferry from Holyhead to Dún Laoghaire. However, what is excluded is the category of merchant vessels who regularly ply commercial trade into our ports and who are registered in another State.

There may be a good reason why this section is so confined. It may be that, taken in conjunction with SOLAS, the kind of added protection the Labour Party and Deputy Deasy are looking for is covered. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify that point. If he is not able to tell us that SOLAS covers our concerns, we should have another look at the section because it is of considerable importance. The rest of the Bill hangs on that section which determines to which category of vessel, or crew, the other provisions of the Bill apply. If we exclude a large proportion of the vessels coming into our ports which constitute the sort of threat Deputy Deasy referred to in the Irish Sea, then how enabling is this piece of legislation?

I am sure all Members will agree that we have not seen enough marine legislation here from different governments. I will not place on the shoulders of the Minister responsibility for neglect in the past, but I query the wisdom of the Minister confining himself in such an enabling piece of legislation to ships of a particular kind, that is ships registered here—that makes sense—and ships that ply a certain type of traffic on a regular basis between our ports and other ports. The Minister should include in an enabling Bill provisions for future regulations to apply to a wider category of ships and, at the same time, the orders he is about to make should be confined to the categories of ships defined in section 2. That is not an unreasonable request and, given the nature of the legislation, it is something the Minister should seriously consider. In four or five years' time we could find ourselves in a situation seeking to have implemented on third-party vessels, vessels that do not meet the qualifications under section 2, the same standardsvis-à-vis competency and so on, and finding that we were debarred from doing that because section 2 is so restricted. We should not lose this opportunity to broaden the potential scope of this legislation while at the same time recognising that for a variety of administrative and legal reasons the regulations the Minister proposes to introduce will, for the time being, be confined to the two categories of merchant traffic to which section 2 applies.

I appreciate that the Chair has been lenient in enabling a discussion to take place about radio control and so on around our coast, areas of growing concern to all Members. It is not coincidental that those who have spoken represent coastal areas and have a direct and critical interest in such matters. From my point of view I can testify that that interest and awareness are growing. There is a public demand for a better understanding of what is happening around our coast and beyond the horizon. It behoves the Minister concerned to move in the direction of a comprehensive marine policy of which this legislation would be a part. Questions have been asked in the House about such matters as a life-saving service, a coastguard service and adequate radio communication. They are all relevant and do not necessarily fall within the realm of this Bill. However, the Minister should indicate if we can expect from his Department in the next few years—I am aware of the personnel constraints that exist—a White Paper or Green Paper on Irish marine policy or if we can expect a series of discussion documents which would address themselves to the problems referred to by Deputy Deasy.

I would like those documents to deal with the question of sea traffic in the Irish Sea because there is no doubt that the volume of traffic there is becoming increasingly critical. The volume of traffic appears to have increased considerably. The crossings from east to west and west to east are constant and the vessel to be used on the B & I jet foil service will cross that sea at great speed. Lack of knowledge of the traffic in that area will intensify the possibility of an accident. That vessel will travel at a speed faster than any of the traditional orthodox vessels that will be in the Irish Sea at the time. We desperately need to know the volume of that traffic and the method of monitoring it. We need to have in some embryo form regulated shipping lanes, not as elaborate as the British Channel because the volume of traffic would not warrant it. We need something to accommodate the increase in traffic. That requires co-operation between the shore-based authorities on both sides of the Irish Sea, a co-operation that did not exist at the time of theCristos Bitas incident 18 months ago.

That requires the provision of extra financial resources to oversee the competency of the supervision up and down the Irish Sea. I hope the commercial viability that has been demonstrated by the B & I and Irish Shipping Limited will be such that we could reasonably hope to levy part of the cost of those extra measures. In this regard we are talking about the safety of workers at sea, of passengers and the safety of property carried by workers at sea in the form of cargo. In addition, we are also talking about the safety of the coastal zone of our State and that of our neighbour from damage brought upon it by the destruction of vessels due to mistakes, incompetence or lack of standards which could wreak enormous environmental damage. Members are aware of the Whiddy Island disaster and they recognise how serious and realistic such a disaster could be. We have an added reality in the Irish Sea from Windscale.

A small ship was in the Irish Sea yesterday protesting about the lack of adequate safeguards in relation to the movement of nuclear waste up and down that sea. I look forward to the Minister publishing the regulations and I urge him to ensure that there are adequate consultations with the trade union movement in general, if he has not done so already. I should like to know if it will be possible for the Minister to ensure that a discussion paper is published in the near future on where the Government and the Department see marine policy developing.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. This is important legislation which involves, not only safety but job opportunities. It is vital that we have competent personnel looking after our ships and that the safety standards which protect passengers, crew, ships and cargo be maintained. People who go to sea must have opportunities for self-advancement. With this enabling legislation there are such opportunities. This legislation will enable the Minister to bring in standards of competency on a par with those required in other countries. If we were seen to lag behind, opportunities for our seamen would slip away. It is vital that they should not be limited in scope for self-advancement, and I welcome the opportunities given to them under this legislation.

We are continuously improving technology and automation and it is vital that people be equipped to deal with these factors. Certification is important and recurrent courses are necessary. The Minister, in his Second Reading speech, drew attention to the fact that we are not working in isolation, but in conjunction with other countries and in agreement with them, which is as it should be.

The importance of safety at sea cannot be too highly stressed. This is vital for not alone passengers and crew but for cargo and ships. Deputies have stressed the importance of looking after our coastal waters and seeing that our coastal stretches are not interfered with, or polluted, due to inadequate precautions. Legislation is complex and difficult, but I am pleased that the Minister intends to introduce further legislation in due course.

I would like to refer, at this point, to the necessity for radio and radar transmitters along our coastline for communication purposes. These would lessen the hazards. It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the lifeboat service—a band of dedicated people who continuously monitor weather conditions and who set out in all sorts of perilous situations, putting the safety of others first. I hope this service will go from strength to strength.

I welcome the certification involved in this legislation, which will bring about an improvement and continuous up-grading of safety standards. I wish the Minister well in the speedy introduction of the necessary conditions, when this legislation is enacted.

I should like to thank the Deputies for their very useful contributions to the debate on this Bill. This is enabling legislation, the provisions of which are largely self-explanatory. The existing law governing the certification of our seamen is outdated and no longer appropriate to the conditions and requirements of modern merchant shipping. We must bring ourselves into line with international practice, especially in the UK. The Bill will enable us to do this and, in addition, will help us to preserve the reciprocal recognition arrangements to which I alluded in my opening statement.

The regulations under this Bill will cover a complex range of matters, from seamen's qualifications and experience to new manning levels for vessels of varying tonnage, revised trading areas and so on. The over-riding concern, however, is safety of life at sea. With this in mind, the proposed regulations will have, as a main objective, the maintenance and possible improvement of the high standards of competence of Irish seamen. In addition, the regulations will have regard to the practical requirements and operating conditions of Irish merchant ships. For this reason my Department have had consultations with the Irish shipping industry. In reply to Deputy Quinn, I see no problem in having consultations, if need be, with the Congress of Trade Unions in respect of the regulations under this Bill. The point was raised as to whether the passing of this Bill would bring us in line with the SOLAS Convention. The answer to this is no. There is need for very considerable legislation before we can become a party to that convention. This matter is receiving consideration at present.

The present Bill and the regulations to be made under it will provide the additional legislative powers necessary to satisfy the 1978 IMCO Convention for Standards of Training and Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers, to which Deputy Deasy referred. The aim of that convention is to promote safety of life and property at sea, the protection of the marine environment by establishing, in common agreement, international standards of training, certification and watch-keeping for seafarers.

Could I ask the Minister how world wide is that convention?

We would hope that it would become world wide, but it has not been adopted by very many countries as yet. It is a very recent convention, adopted only in 1978, and it will be some time before countries have the opportunity of providing legislation in compliance with this convention. We will thereby ensure that seafarers are qualified and fit for their duties. The convention establishes basic requirements for training, certification and watch-keeping on an international level. It lays down the mandatory minimum requirements for certification and continuous proficiency of masters, deck engineers and radio officers. It also lays down mandatory minimum requirements for the training and certification of masters, officers and ratings of oil, chemical and liquified gas tankers.

On a matter raised by Deputy Deasy, it is true that certain countries may operate with less than the appropriate manning levels. The question of the specification of foreign ships coming into our ports is a matter for the international authorities involved. However, we do have the power to inspect and detain ships under the 1894 Act when we have doubts about safety. The Deputy will recognise that ships of all nations are free to travel to and from our ports, and if we were to attempt to enforce our certification requirements on all foreign ships entering our waters we would, in effect, need to certify the ships of all nations, which would be an impossible task. Also we could run into very serious international difficulties. Our best option is to leave certification to national authorities but, at the same time—and I agree with the Deputy in this—to seek international harmonisation by concerted multilateral action. The 1978 IMCO Convention to which I have referred is a good step in that direction. But we would not have the power under this Bill to make regulations in respect of ships except those registered in the State and foreign ships carrying passengers between places in the State.

Deputy Deasy referred also to laneways. Again, a laneways system is not a national matter. We cannot interfere at will with foreign ships when they are on the high seas, and action along these lines would also have to be concerted internationally. Certainly we would be anxious to increase and improve safety at sea.

Would the Minister consider discussing the matter with the British authorities in relation to the Irish Sea, because I believe that the British and French have done just that with regard to the English Channel?

Yes, we would be willing to do that.

The Deputy also raised the question of medium frequency radio coverage of the south-east coast. As I think I said previously in reply to a debate, the position there is that there are a number of marine radio stations on the west coast of Britain which, like Valentia and Malin Head, maintain a constant listening watch in accordance with international arrangements. These stations provide ample coverage for shipping in the south-east area, and there would be no point in duplicating the already adequate facilities by providing further manned coast radio stations to serve that area.

With regard to the general question of the provision of VHF radio facilities around the coast, this has been under very active consideration. A pilot survey has been under way for the past year and the matter will be determined when we obtain the results of the survey. I might say that the survey is very nearly finished, and I would hope early in the New Year to get some information in relation to it.

The representations I have had were from lifeboat men, some of whom were involved in the Fasnet rescue, when they found the radio systems in operation to be highly unsatisfactory.

That is not the information I have. However, because the Deputy raised the matter, I will have a look at it again.

I think I have dealt with all the points raised. It is a relatively straightforward Bill and I do not think there is anything more I can say in respect of it.

Is Second Stage agreed?

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

When is it intended to take Committee Stage?

If Deputy Deasy is agreeable I should like to take it now. But I would have to inform him that I have three amendments, all of which are of a drafting nature, except for one where I have substituted "Director of Public Prosecutions" for "the Attorney General".

Acting Chairman

Is it agreed to take Committee Stage now?

Deputy Quinn and I have reservations about section 2 and we would prefer that Committee Stage be deferred until next week.

Whatever the Deputy wishes, but I hope I have explained clearly to the Deputy what is the situation in that respect.

Yes, the Minister has been most helpful.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 4 December 1979.