Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996

Vol. 467 No. 4

Merchant Shipping (Liability of Shipowners and Others) Bill, 1996 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to introduce this Bill and I look forward to hearing Deputies' contributions.

Ireland must not lag behind other modern and progressive countries with regard to relevant current international standards of maritime law. My purpose in introducing this Bill is to bring Irish law, in relation to the carriage of goods and passengers by sea, into line with current international standards as reflected in a number of relevant international conventions, namely the London Convention, the Athens Convention and the Brussels Convention. The Merchant Shipping (Liability of Shipowners and Others) Bill, 1996, will put in place a charter for the providers and recipients of maritime transport services — that is the owners of Irish registered ships, and the passengers and shippers using these ships — as well as for those others who may suffer loss or damage caused by Irish registered ships.

This Bill is an important step towards levelling the playing pitch for Irish shipowners, shippers and exporters as against our international competitors. Our proximity to some of the world's busiest shipping lanes and our consequently enhanced exposure to possible compensation claims resulting from maritime incidents serves to highlight the necessity and the desirability of updating the legislation. This Bill will give effect in domestic law to three international conventions on shipowners' liability. The conventions establish the commercial relationship between shipowners and their clients, the passengers and shippers.

The intention behind the introduction of the conventions and their Protocols was to remedy a number of deficiencies that existed in earlier conventions concerning claims for compensation in maritime incidents. This was achieved by: (i) establishing a uniform international regime for determining the limits of liability and the methods by which these amounts would be computed. The Special Drawing Right (SDR) of the International Monetary Fund was adopted as the "currency" for the purpose of stating the limits of liability; (ii) raising the limits of liability to a more realistic level but at the same time making it possible for a shipowner to insure at a reasonable cost; (iii) making the right to limit liability virtually unbreakable unless loss is caused by deliberate negligence or recklessness on the part of the shipowner, ship operator, manager, charterer or carrier. A claimant must prove such negligence or recklessness through the courts; (iv) providing — in the case of the Athens and Brussels Conventions — a uniform means of establishing liability by clarifying the rights and responsibilities of carriers, passengers and shippers. The London Convention deals exclusively with rules in relation to limitation of liability whatever the basis of liability may be.

Shipping is vital to a small open economy such as ours. More than 75 per cent of our imports and exports are carried by sea. Shipping, in general, and certainly in so far as it affects us, is an international, even global business. International fora and conventions play an important role in setting agreed standards in respect of ships of different flags. While a small country such as ours could not claim to have tremendous power or influence on the international maritime front, it is important that nations large and small contribute towards international co-operation in the common interest.

This Bill is a house-keeping exercise. It is a levelling of the playing pitch with regard to maritime law. It will introduce into our law the three international conventions and Protocols already mentioned and will enable the State to accede to them in due course. All these instruments are in force internationally. Accession to the conventions will mean shipowners will know the extent of their liability unless they are deliberately negligent or reckless in running their vessels. The limits of liability will apply whether they are involved in a marine incident within the jurisdiction or outside it.

The fact that a Master made a mistake, was negligent in some respect or the navigation gear was faulty would not rule out limitation. It is a matter for a claimant to prove deliberate intent to cause loss or damage in the courts.

The London Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, 1976, came into force internationally in 1986, and to date 26 states including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have become parties.

The Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974, and the Protocol of 1976 came into force internationally in 1987 and 1989, respectively. To date 22 states including the United Kingdom, Spain and Belgium have become parties to the Convention; 18 states including the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal have become parties to the Protocol.

Regarding the Brussels Convention, the Protocol of 1968 to this came into force internationally on 23 June 1977. To date some 30 states including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands have become parties to the convention. The Protocol of 1979 came into force internationally in 1984 and 28 states have become parties.

All three instruments provide for limits of liability. The London Convention deals exclusively with rules in relation to limitation irrespective of who is liable. The other two conventions lay down the rules for establishing liability. This Bill provides for the London Convention to take precedence over both the Athens and Brussels Conventions.

Ships which operate in our waters but which belong to countries that have previously acceded to these conventions already enjoy the benefit of their terms. This Bill will extend these terms to the owners of Irish registered ships — currently numbering 73. The terms will also extend to passengers and shippers using Irish registered vessels as well as to other parties subjected to damage or loss caused by Irish registered vessels.

The limitation of shipowners' liability is governed by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, as amended. Shipowners may limit liability in the case of: (a) loss of life or personal injury either alone or together with loss of or damage to vessels, goods, merchandise or other things to an aggregate amount not exceeding £15 per ton of the ship's registered tonnage; and (b) loss of or damage to vessels, goods, merchandise or other things, whether there be additional loss of life or personal injury or not, to an aggregate amount not exceeding £8 per ton of the ship's registered tonnage. The right to limitation, however, is subject to the condition that the occurrence takes place without the carrier's actual "fault or privity", that is knowledge that loss or damage will, or is likely to, occur.

Under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980, a shipowner is at liberty to disclaim all liability for the payment of compensation to passengers under a contract of carriage. I understand, however, that some of our shipowners have voluntarily incorporated the terms of the Athens Convention into their contracts of carriage.

I will now deal with the provisions of each of the conventions in turn. The London Convention on the Limitation for Maritime Claims provides for the totality of claims which may arise from any one incident resulting in loss of life or personal injury, loss of or damage to property — including damage to harbour works and navigational aids — and loss from delay in the carriage of cargo or passengers and their luggage. It deals exclusively with rules in relation to limitation of liability viz. who is entitled to limit liability, claims excepted form liability, conduct barring limitation, time bar for claims, the limits applying to personal, property, passenger and other claims and the global limits in respect of claims arising on any distinct occasion.

Such claims can include damage resulting from the spillage of bunker fuel from a vessel. They cannot, however, include claims arising from damage to or the loss of an oil tanker itself. The Bill does not apply to tankers carrying oil as cargo. Under the Oil Pollution (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act, 1988, oil tankers are already covered for claims of up to £14 million in respect of any one incident.

The Athens Convention deals with the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea. It specifically covers the loss of life or personal injury to passengers and the loss of or damage to their luggage through establishing a uniform international regime of liability. Under its terms the burden of proving that an incident occurred in the course of carriage and the extent of loss or damage lies with the claimant except in the case of shipwreck, collision, stranding etc. when fault of carrier is presumed.

The Brussels Convention specifically covers the loss of or damage to cargo where goods are carried under a bill of lading. A bill of lading is a document issued by a shipowner to a shipper of goods. It serves as a receipt for the goods, evidence of the contract of carriage and document of title. As a receipt, it contains the description and quantity of the goods. As evidence of the contract of carriage, it contains the terms and conditions of the contract. As a document of title, it is used by a third party to take delivery of the goods from the ship.

The 1924 convention is known within the shipping industry as the "Hague Rules". The 1968 amending Protocol is known as the "Visby Rules" and the 1924 convention so amended as the "Hague-Visby Rules".

Prior to the Hague Rules there was little law in existence that prevented the carrier of goods by sea trading under bills of landing from contracting out of virtually all liability in respect of loss or damage to cargo. The Hague Rules standardised the conditions of carriage set out in bills of lading and have been incorporated into the domestic legislation of most maritime countries, including Ireland. The Athens Convention and the Hague-Visby Rules, as well as providing for limitation of liability, lay down the rights and responsibilities of carriers and passengers and of carriers and shippers, respectively.

The Hague Rules were incorporated into Irish law by means of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1947. Ireland acceded to the Hague Rules Convention in 1962. The rules were amended through the adoption of Protocols in 1968 and 1979. The 1968 Protocol amended and expanded the rules in a number of important respects in relation to: (i) prima facie evidence, (ii) time limits for claims, (iii) monetary limits of liability, (iv) liability in tort and (v) nuclear damage.

The Protocol of 1968 provides that nothing in the Hague-Visby Rules shall affect the provisions of any international convention or national law governing liability for nuclear damage. The Protocol of 1979 substitutes the Special Drawing Right, SDR, of the International Monetary Fund for the gold franc as the unit of account. The texts of these conventions and Protocols are each included in the Schedules to the Bill.

When it becomes law, this Bill will make it possible for passengers to qualify for realistic levels of compensation for loss, injury or damage either to themselves or their luggage. It will put an end to existing inequities with respect to claims facilities as between travellers by sea and airborne passengers. Shippers, for the first time in almost 100 years, may seek and expect to receive realistic levels of compensation for instances of loss, damage or delay in the transit of their goods by sea. Shipowners will enjoy the advantages of knowing in advance the absolute maximum limit of compensation for which they are liable in the event of accidents and-or delays occurring in the course of their operations. Most importantly shipowners will be facilitated in being able to arrange the necessary levels of insurance cover.

In the case of a typical vessel of 3,000 registered tons, the absolute limit of liability will be increased for loss of life or injury from the present ceiling of £45,000 to the more realistic maximum of 1,580,000 Special Drawing Rights which is about £1.47 million. Where loss of life or personal injury occurs on a passenger ship, the present maximum possible claim is £45,000. The Bill will increase this figure to £50,000 per passenger up to an aggregate maximum not exceeding 25 million SDRs which is about £23 million. In instances involving loss of or damage to goods or a vessel, the present maximum claim possible is a ludicrous £24,000. Under this Bill, the maximum claim possible will be a more realistic 580,000 SDRs which is about £540,000.

With regard to liability for removal of a wreck and its cargo, it is important to note that while the London Convention provides for limitation of liability in cases of wreck, it permits adhering Governments to opt out of this provision if they see fit. It allows for such adhering Governments to provide for no limitation to apply in such cases. This provision was availed of in section 53 of the Merchant Shipping (Wreck and Salvage) Act, 1993. That Act provided for no limit to the liability of the owner of a wrecked or stranded vessel in respect of the cost of raising, removing or otherwise disposing of such a vessel.

It is proposed to replace section 53 of the Wreck and Salvage Act with Section 11 of the Liability of Shipowners and Others Bill, 1996, and to strengthen the wording to cover "the raising, removal, destruction or the rendering harmless of a ship which is sunk, wrecked, stranded or abandoned including anything that is or has been on board such a ship". The new wording is designed to take account of experience to date with the enforcement of the Wreck and Salvage Act, 1993.

The London Convention further provides for an absolutely unlimited claim facility for loss or damage in respect of accidents to vessels powered by nuclear power or carrying nuclear materials. Given our position on the Sellafield nuclear processing plant and the vessels transiting the Irish Sea route to and from Sellafield, this provision is of particular importance.

This Bill will provide a balanced framework of obligations and rights for shipowners, shippers and passengers and will further facilitate the smooth operation of sea transport service for all the various interests involved, whether providing or availing of sea transport services.

The Bill extends to Irish-registered vessels the benefits enjoyed heretofore only by vessels which belong to countries which have acceded to these conventions already. Its passage into our law will balance this anomalous exposure and, indeed, prudent owners of Irish-registered vessels will have already insured against liability at a rate higher than provided for under our existing law on limitation and in line with the more practical limits which will now be introduced.

Since becoming Minister for the Marine in May of last year I have become very conscious of the need to redress the competitive disadvantages being endured at international level by the Irish sector. Simultaneously, I must continue to ensure that reliable efficient services are available to industry, that we protect our marine environment and that safety standards on our ships meet the most exacting standards. These targets while attainable will not be easily met.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gilmore and I, as the House is already aware, have recently brought legislation through the Oireachtas on the management of harbours and on dumping at sea. The Government on my recommendation approved a scheme to give grants during periods of shipboard training to deck officers and marine engineering cadets and trainees who are students at Cork Regional Technical College.

The scheme was introduced to secure placement opportunities for our students who had found themselves during recent years at a severe competitive disadvantage when compared to students in other countries where subsidies had been introduced as an inducement to shipowners to ensure a continuing supply of good quality officers. The scheme should overcome this disadvantage and ensure that we maintain and develop the maritime skills base which is essential for an island country.

Provisions are included in this year's Finance Act which are aimed at encouraging good quality tonnage onto our register. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn has also agreed to have the situation in relation to PAYE and PRSI as it concerns seafarers examined during the coming year with a view to determining what action may be taken to enhance employment opportunities and the competitiveness of our fleet.

I am committed to pursuing all avenues to achieving a level playing pitch in the international maritime sector. That implies a commensurate input from small as well as large countries on the international scene. In Ireland's case this includes updating our laws, having due regard to our situation.

Concerning cost implications for shipowners and the export industry, the advantages derived from a shipowner knowing the full extent of his liability whether he is involved in a marine incident in Irish territorial waters or in waters under other jurisdictions, and facilitating the shipping industry by way of ready availability of insurance cover, early settlement of claims etc. outweigh the cost implications. It gives me great pleasure to recommend this Bill to the House.

The House has become very quiet after a robust afternoon as we debate the Second Stage of this Bill. I hope it is not an indication of any lack of interest in shipping and marine matters in the House.

More than 70 per cent of the earth's surface is covered by water. We receive food, transport facilities, fishing resources and numerous other natural advantages form these seas and oceans. As a former Minister for the Environment with some responsibility at the time for road improvement, I can see the advantages of using the natural assets of our seas and oceans for transport when we compare the cost of sea transport to the massive cost of road and infrastructural development and the effects of this development on the landscape. Needless to say, it is a fragile asset and needs to be protected and preserved.

Ireland's waters are a vital part of our industrial anatomy, carrying up to 80 per cent of our exports and imports. When experiencing the buzz at an Irish airport, it is sometimes very hard to realise that only a very small proportion of our trade, including the most expensive and lightest goods, is transported by air. The more weighty, less expensive but nonetheless very necessary business is transported via our sea routes and therefore the vital importance of shipping and its safety to our national well being is very clear. Any Bill introduced here, however belatedly, in respect of shipping conventions and Protocols is a necessary part of growing up and understanding what international co-operation can do to improve standards which are so necessary to ensure that people act more responsibly.

It is clear that new incentives will be necessary to underpin the expansion of the Irish shipping fleet and the refurbishment of older vessels. We need to see to what extent this area can help in dealing with our unemployment question. I compliment the Minister on the scheme to provide grants during periods of shipboard training to deck officers and marine engineering at Cork Regional Technical College. It is clear they were at a disadvantage compared with their colleagues across the water. The Minister's response is welcome.

Since the demise of Irish Shipping, sufficient emphasis has not been put on restoring our merchant fleet. The opportunities for bulk cargo at Aughinish and Moneypoint and all the bulk carrying of grain and foodstuffs to Cork, Dublin and Foynes, which is done to a great extent by international companies, will have to be addressed, otherwise we are not serious about creating employment in this business. We are seriously lacking in a fleet of our own and successive Governments have not been given much encouragement to redress that.

Despite its size, in many respects Irish shipping has been successful in the competitive world. The Minister has indicated it is at a disadvantage, but it has been able to prove an expertise and an ability to operate effectively. We could become a much more significant seafaring country. In this regard we need to invest more in our young people. The evidence is that they make excellent seafarers. They have a good attitude, the dropout rate once they commence their practical training at sea is negligible, there is fairly good career advancement and the remuneration is reasonably attractive. Ireland enjoys a number of advantages in the expansion of its maritime operations. As a member of the EU we have a well established and reputable maritime infrastructure and more investment is being made in our ports. Some extensive development has taken place in the past four or five years and this will continue. We have an excellent communications network. I want to emphasise that point because we underestimate and undervalue these assets. This is not a condemnation of the present Minister or of the Department of the Marine. For a young Department many major steps have been taken in the past seven or eight years, not least of which have been updating and modernising the legislation but also fighting a number of major battles on the international front. It is time for another injection of new resources to tackle the many problems that remain to be solved.

The Bill seeks to draw together in one Act various international conventions such as Limitations of Liability for Maritime Claims, Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, the Unification of Certain Rules of Law relating to Bills of Lading and to make provisions for other related matters. The intention behind the introduction of the conventions and their Protocols was to remedy a number of deficiencies concerning claims for compensation in maritime incidents that existed in earlier conventions. It establishes a uniform regime for determining the limits of liability and the methods by which these amounts would be computed. The limits for liability are raised to a more realistic levels and at the same time it should be possible for ship owners to insure at reasonable cost. The Minister has again emphasised the fact that he is endeavouring to level the playing field. That is the crucial aspect of how we move forward in a business that is becoming increasingly global. We have to co-operate with and seek co-operation from the international community in devising the best and most practical and efficient way to manage this resource.

Many of our partners have already adopted these conventions. They have been in force in many countries for many years and they have enjoyed the benefits. We are at the rear of the posse but we are beginning to catch up. The London Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims provides for the totality of claims which may arise form any one incident, resulting in the loss of life or personal injury, loss or damage to property including damage to harbour works and navigation aids etc. The Athens Convention deals with the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea. The convention specifically covers the loss of life or personal injury to passengers and loss of or damage to luggage and establishes a uniform international regime of liability. The Brussels Convention covers the loss or damage to cargo where goods are carried under a bill of lading. When it becomes law the Bill will make it possible for passengers to qualify for realistic levels of compensation for loss, injury or damage either to themselves or their luggage and it will put an end to the existing inequalities in terms of claim facilities as they exist between air and sea borne passengers.

The Minister has outlined the fact that we have 73 ships, that we operate in a competitive environment, that we have some disadvantages and that he is endeavouring to see how these can be redressed. We also have to ensure that we have the highest possible environmental standards. We must encourage the raising of these standards. Maritime safety, efficient navigation, the control and prevention of pollution as well as a wide variety of technical and other matters have to be dealt with. In the Seanad, Senator Brendan Daly gave an outline of some of the problems which perhaps do not come to notice as much on the sea as they might if they happened in the air or on the roads. For example, one ship per day was lost between 1970 and 1980 across the world. In one year alone 378 ships were lost but the number has now been reduced to about 200 per year. It is still a massive problem involving death and injury. How many uninsured and underinsured ships are there? What is the age of the fleet? Is there an old fleet in some countries, resulting in risk and massive loss of life and injury? Against that background it is important that the international community, in terms of conventions and the domestic legislation being changed, seek that total co-operation across the world as quickly as possible.

While the London Convention provides for limitation of liability and for the adhering government to opt out if it sees fit, it also allows for such adhering government to provide for no limitation to apply. In this instance, the Government has sought to replace section 53 of the Merchant Shipping (Wreck and Salvage) Act and to strengthen the wording in this legislation.

I welcome the fact that the London Convention provides for unlimited claims in respect of loss or damage arising from accidents involving vessels fuelled by nuclear power or carrying nuclear materials. We must do everything possible to prevent such accidents and deter further risk in what is an extremely risky business. Any disincentive put in place in that regard will be supported.

A ship can do considerable damage in a harbour, the cost of which can often be greater than the value of the ship. It appears from recent reports that some ships have caused massive damage to ports and harbour companies are concerned about whether underinsured ships will be able to cover the cost of such damage. Will the Minister clarify the position in that regard?

I am not sure if interaction between ships and seabed pipe or power lines is covered under this legislation or the Oil Pollution at Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act, 1988. The increasing number of seabed pipelines in the Irish Sea and off the west coast could be damaged by direct impact at low tide or when anchors are used in emergencies. Extreme rupture to a pipeline could lead to a serious oil discharge. Under what legislation are such matters covered? I hope we discover more oil and that technology will allow us extract it at economic rates. As the number of oil platforms off the west coast is likely to increase, will the question of collisions, fires and so on, arising from interaction between merchant ships and fixed oil platforms be dealt with in this legislation or elsewhere?

Legal experts have informed me that the Civil Liability Act, 1961 has proved ambiguous and while it was intended to deal only with collisions, it has been interpreted more liberally. Is it necessary to rectify that matter under this legislation?

I understand Committee Stage of the Bill will be dealt with during the summer recess. The legislation dealing with drink driving, with which I was involved, was also taken during the summer recess. I look forward to debating amendments to this legislation on Committee Stage. We have no hesitation in supporting these provisions.

I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister for initiating it in the Seanad. The Upper House could be used more frequently for initiating legislation. While I am sure the Bill will receive broad support, by any standards it is long overdue. The purpose of the Bill is to give the force of law to a number of international conventions and Protocols. It is remarkable that in 1996 we are giving legislative effect to the international convention on bills of lading, which came into effect in 1924. This delay is a reflection of our general attitude towards all maritime matters. It is remarkable that we, as an island nation, take such little interest in maritime affairs and fail to develop our maritime potential in economic and employment terms. We do not have a large Naval Service, landlocked Switzerland may have a bigger one. Despite the coastal waters at our disposal our fishing fleet represents only a fraction of the Spanish fleet. Unlike the Greeks and the Scandinavians we have not produced great shipping companies. Our State-owned shipping company has gone to a watery grave.

The most recent figures for registered tonnage of motor vessels relate to 31 December 1994 and they show a total tonnage of over 109,000 tonnes, a fall of 15,000 tonnes on the figure three years previously. To put this statistic in context, the net tonnage of the entire Irish fleet would be almost equal that of a single bulk carrier delivering coal to the Moneypoint power station.

We have failed to take advantage of our geographical position between Europe and North America and develop a large European trans-shipment centre, like Holland and the port of Rotterdam. Many containers leaving Ireland for the American market are first sent to British or continental ports for loading onto larger transatlantic vessels. The importation of bulk products such as animal feeds often involves trans-shipment, with break-bulk activities undertaken at other ports such as Liverpool and Rotterdam, so that loads can be brought here in small vessels. In both cases Irish Industry incurs additional costs.

Neither are we to the fore in maritime engineering. High speed catamarans operate on many cross-channel ferry routes, but development work on such craft is carried out mainly in Australia and Scandinavia. The new state-of-the-art high speed vessel recently introduced on the Dún Laoghaire-Hollyhead route was built in Finland, a small country like Ireland but with an infinitely superior track record in exploiting the economic potential of the maritime sector.

I do not know of any simple way to change our national attitude to maritime affairs. The fishing industry appears to be going backwards rather than forwards. Individual skippers have bought new state-of-the-art vessels capable of venturing far from their home ports for long periods. However, by and large, the industry is still underdeveloped and its employment potential has not been fully exploited.

Strategic plans have been devised for various sectors of the economy in recent years. The tourism plan has been the most successful. Why can we not devise an integrated development plan for the fishing industry? Why can we not set clear targets for employment, exports and import substitution in the sea fishing sector and set a realistic timetable for achieving them?

As regards wider maritime issues, the Government should be prepared to give a lead as to how this sector of the economy can best be developed. For example, it seems the full potential of the Shannon estuary has not yet been exploited. This is one of the finest deep water facilities in Europe and already caters for huge bulk carriers bringing coal to Moneypoint power station and bauxite to the Aughinish Alumina plant. Will the Minister say if his Department is looking at any plans for the strategic development of the Shannon Estuary as a commercial harbour capable of handling large vessels?

Despite the publication of operational programmes for transport, we lack a strategic approach to port development. On the stretch of coast between Greenore and Waterford, for instance, there are no fewer than nine commercial ports, a large number to cater for such a small economic catchment area. It is ironic that despite the availability of so many ports, much of the Republic's trade is channelled through Northern Ireland, via the ports of Warrenpoint, Belfast and Larne, all of which engage in significant marketing of their services here.

Each of the former State ports is now constituted as in independent commercial entity in its own right, which is a welcome development. The granting of operational autonomy to the ports will help them to prosper. However, I understand the newly constituted companies may not be in a position to meet their pension liabilities to their employees, and that they may approach the Exchequer for the money needed to make up the shortfall. There have been suggestions that the amount involved could be as high as £100 million. If this is the case, it would represent a considerable charge on the public purse. Perhaps the Minister will use this opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the pension liabilities of the harbour boards and to say how much public money will be required to remedy the funding deficit. This Bill is largely uncontentious, it is long overdue and I support it.

I welcome the Bill. It is important to bring our laws in line with what is happening elsewhere in the Community. We are all aware of the need for safety at sea about which I would like to speak. Safety is important for those at sea, including fishermen and yachtsmen, and for those working in the gas fields off the Cork coast. The main lifeboat covering the south coast, the Cork ferry port and Cork harbour is located in Ballycotton. Cork harbour is very busy as the oil refinery at Whitegate, the Kinsale gas fields and the main western sea route to England and continental Europe are located in this area. The best boat should be available to the lifeboat service to ensure safety for those at sea in this area.

The lifeboat at Ballycotton is an Arun class boat which is 52 feet long and carries a dinghy. It is due to go out of service in a year. A new boat, known as a Trent class life boat, has been designated to Ballycotton by the RNLI. That class of boat is only 46 feet long and it will not be able to carry a dinghy on board. Given that it is a smaller boat, it will not be able to take as many casualties on board as the Arun class boat. People would prefer the Severn class boat, which is 56 feet long and is able to carry a dinghy. Because of its size, it would be able to carry more casualties.

The reason the Trent class boat is being allocated is because of the additional draft required for the Severn class boat in terms of berthing and operation. That problem could be solved by the dredging of Ballycotton harbour and by the repair of the pier. The Minister's predecessor, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Coveney, visited Ballycotton and looked at these problems. I would like the Minister to look at this as soon as possible because there is a huge amount of traffic in this area and there is a need to ensure the best possible boat is provided in a year's time. I hope the Minister will visit Cork soon when I will point out to him the problems in Ballycotton. I hope he will check up on the progress made since the former Minister's visit. Like the people of Ballycotton, I look forward to hearing good news in the near future.

I thank Deputies for their positive contributions and in particular, for supporting this legislation. I noted the points made by Deputy Michael Ahern. I am always delighted to visit beautiful places like Ballycotton and I hope to do so in the not too distant future. The question of lifeboats is a matter for the RNLI, although we are in regular contact with that organisation. I have just received the report of the fishing vessels safety review group, which I will publish with the consent of the Government. It is a unique report in that it is the first time all those involved in the industry got together to look at the problem and to produce recommendations. If and when I publish that report, I am sure the Deputy will find its contents very interesting and challenging for us in terms of dealing with what is a serious problem.

I thank Deputy Michael Smith for his positive and constructive contribution. I agree with him as regards opportunities available to us in the shipping sector. It was for that reason I persuaded the Government and the Minister for Finance to introduce amendments to the Finance Act, 1996, which I hope will add new tonnage to the merchant shipping fleet. I also got the support of the Government in relation to grant aid for cadets. If one manages to qualify as a naval cadet, it is the one area in which one is certain of employment.

At a recent Council of Ministers meeting on maritime transport, we touched on the Kinnock White Paper on this area. It is clear there is a shortage of personnel to supply labour for European merchant shipping. I would be interested in tackling this and arranging courses to encourage people to seek employment in that sector which would be guaranteed in Europe. The Deputy is right in that since the closure of Irish Shipping very little has been done to retain the expertise of those involved in the commercial shipping area. It is about time we started doing something positive and constructive so that people are made aware there are job opportunities in the merchant shipping area. It would be of great benefit to the economy if we put in place suitable courses so that people can qualify and take up job opportunities. I intend pursuing that matter during our Presidency.

The question of damage to harbours is covered under the Bill. Compensation is subject to the overall limits on liability in terms of tonnage, which I will discuss in detail on Committee Stage. There is no question of compensation for damage being limited only to the value of the ship involved. From time to time inspections are carried out of foreign vessels visiting out ports and if they are not up to standard we have power to detain them. We play an active role within the IMO in trying to improve standards.

Is there a European inspectorate?

No. Through our own inspectorate we inspect ships at various locations and at certain times. Damage to harbours or to the coastline is a very serious matter for us and we have played a major part in trying to improve standards at all times. On the Deputy's question about the civil liability Act, I will have that question examined and it may be discussed on committee Stage. The question of seabed pipelines is a matter for the Department of Energy and, I understand, is covered by legislation in that area. I will get the details of that matter and pass them to the Deputy.

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Clohessy, in regard to the potential in the marine area that has been ignored. In the short time I have been in this ministry I have learned something new every day about the potential of the marine resource and that we fail to grasp opportunities. The Harbours Act is in place and we will be setting up harbour companies which, I hope, will maximise commercial opportunities available to them for expansion, making business more competitive and attractive.

There have been considerable improvements in Dublin Port and freight lost to ports in Northern Ireland in the recent past has been won back. There is a significant improvement in terms of tonnage through the port and receipts to the Port and Docks Board, which will become the Dublin Harbour Company. The great advantage is that profits are used to reduce costs, making Irish business more competitive. It is vitally important to develop our ports and harbours in such a way that we become competitive and use the profits to lower costs, thereby improving attractiveness for Irish exporters and those who import raw material to manufacture goods.

I am delighted that Deputy Smith, Deputy Clohessy and others who debate this matter from time to time approach development of the marine resource in a positive way. I hope we have succeeded in creating an awareness of the potential there. We cannot do everything, but we can certainly create awareness and co-operate from time to time in improving legislation, whether this Bill, the Harbours Act or the Dumping at Sea Act. Those measures help in no small way to make people realise the value of the marine resource and the vast potential to be explored.

I thank my colleagues for their positive contributions and look forward to answering detailed questions on Committee Stage.