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.