I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 for the consideration of the House. The Bill is one of a number of legislative priorities that are being pursued in my Department. Its aim is to update and modernise ship registration legislation and enhance the safety of ships that operate domestically in Irish waters. The Bill recognises the importance of maritime safety given our island status and the need to ensure the safety of maritime transport services generally.
International maritime law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, requires that every state fix the conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships, registration of ships in its territory and the right to fly its flag. Ship registration is about conferring Irish nationality on ships, allowing them to fly the Irish flag and registering ownership. Our existing ship registration regime dates from 1955, the main Act being the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. It forms part of a wide-ranging code of maritime legislation that dates from 1894.
Under the provisions of the 1955 Act, as amended in 1998 and 2006, ships wholly owned by an Irish citizen or an Irish body corporate are obliged to register. Exemptions to this obligation include ships not exceeding 15 net tonnes and which navigate in particular areas, sea-fishing boats less than 15 m in length overall, and ships owned by Irish citizens not ordinarily resident in the State. As the flag state, Ireland has obligations in respect of ships on its register wherever in the world they travel, including in regard to any serious marine incident in which they may be involved. This highlights the importance of ensuring ships flying our flag are safe and seaworthy.
The need for an updated ship registration system has been growing against a background of international growth in maritime trade, an increase in the use of pleasure craft and an increasing emphasis on safety, security and environmental issues both at EU and international level. The Bill before us today is the outcome of a detailed review involving an extensive public consultation process, correspondence and meetings with interested stakeholders, as well as engagement with relevant Departments. It has been prepared mindful of the efforts of the International Maritime Organisation and the European Union, in particular, to enhance the safety of ships and prevent pollution from ships by addressing the issues of substandard ships and the obligations of states in regard to ships that fly their flag
The underlying focus of the Bill is a continuing desire and commitment as a maritime nation to achieve and maintain a fleet of Irish-flagged vessels that is safe. At the same time, the Bill provides a legislative basis for the establishment and regulation of a modern ship registration system around a new, centralised, electronic and accessible national ship register. It is hoped that the revised approach to ship registration will enable enhanced accuracy of central records of Irish ships and ships operating in Irish waters and assist in ship and owner identification, including to the benefit of search and rescue or other emergency operations. The motivation behind the Bill, therefore, is not simply to update the legislation but also to improve the way in which ships are registered, the administrative process involved and the manner in which ship registration records are stored.
Under the 1955 Act, my Department is the national authority with responsibility for the registration of Irish ships, although the statutory ship registration role is assigned to the Revenue Commissioners. Local registrars, who are Revenue officials, administer the registration process in 11 locations throughout the country. Each registrar maintains a register book to record all registration transactions that occur in respect of the port of registry for which he or she is responsible. There are 13 ports of registry designated under the 1955 Act at present. The local registrars hold all of the original official ship registration records and send details of entries in the register books to the mercantile marine office of my Department. There are currently more than 3,200 ships registered in Ireland on the national ship register.
The new electronic Irish register of ships will consist of different parts for the registration of different types of ships and for different registration purposes, such as visitor registration. The electronic register will facilitate easier access to ship registration information and thereby enable the generation of statistical information and reports about the make-up of the Irish fleet. The Bill also addresses gaps in the existing legislation such as the absence of a specific power to remove unsafe or unsuitable ships from the register, the absence of ship registration renewal and outdated enforcement and penalty provisions. As well as addressing these gaps, the Bill provides for improvements such as an extension of mandatory ship registration to additional ship categories, including fishing boats less than 15 m in length overall, personal watercraft such as jet skis, small fast-powered craft and some small commercial angling boats.
Subject to some exemptions, all ships operating domestically will be required to be on the register or have a current valid registration conferring nationality from another country. The comprehensive legislative framework provided by the Bill will be supported by secondary legislation which will provide the detail of the ship registration requirements. This will facilitate further evolution and improvement in the future if the need arises, including a potential to respond quickly to any emerging policy issues of concern at a domestic, EU or international level. The regulations will be finalised following the enactment of the Bill.
I now turn to the content of the Bill, which is divided into nine Parts and has four Schedules.
Part 1, sections 1 to 8, inclusive, contain standard provisions, including interpretation, fees, expenses, regulations, repeals and revocations. On fees, a scale of charges based on the categorisation, size and use of ships is proposed. The levels have yet to be decided and, in accordance with section 3, will be prescribed in regulations to be made with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
At this point, it is not anticipated that the current maximum registration fee levels in the range of €201 to €251 will be exceeded. The registration fee for the new ship categories, such as personal watercraft or small fast-powered craft, will be less than the registration fee for large commercially operating ships. A fee structure under €100 is envisaged for smaller vessels. There will be renewal of registration up to five years after initial registration and up to every ten years after that. It is anticipated that renewal fees will be lower than the initial registration fee, in particular in cases where there has been no changes made to the ship in the intervening period. The fee for visitor registration will be a nominal fee, probably under €50, and a simplified and straightforward application process is proposed so as not to impact negatively on tourism.
Part 2 deals with registration of ships. The framework for the new Irish register of ships, the new ship registration process and its administration is established in sections 9 to 32, inclusive. The modernised central Irish register of ships to replace the existing primarily paper based system will be established under section 9. In line with e-Govemment policy, an electronic register is proposed consisting of separate parts for the registration of different ship categories and for different types of registration. The detail of the structure of the register and the different registration requirements for each part of the register will be set out in the regulations to be made under the Bill. At this point, it is envisaged that some parts of the register will be established and implemented on a phased basis.
The current thinking on the structure of the register is that there will be a part for new passenger and commercial ships, existing large passenger and commercial ships 24 m in length and greater and the larger recreational craft. A second part will be for licensed sea-fishing boats, a distinction being made between fishing boats over and under 15 m in length. A third part will include the registration of existing passenger and commercial ships less than 24 m as well as personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and small commercial angling boats. A fourth part will contain the detail of ships that are the subject of visitor registration or a temporary registration and there will be a part for information on undischarged registered mortgages in respect of ships that have been removed from the register.
A facility to initiate ship registrations online is envisaged and it should be possible to substantially complete many straightforward renewals in this way. However, given the nature of ship registration and some of the documents required, it will be necessary to maintain some element of paper documentation in the registration process. The new register will be maintained by my Department and the Bill allows for the designation of officers of my Department, of another Minister and officers of the Revenue Commissioners to be registrars of ships to administer the register.
Section 10 provides for service agreements with State agencies to undertake elements of the ship registration administration process, if the need arises in the future. If this happens, officers of the State agency can also be designated as registrars of ships. Given our international responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the need to retain control over the registration of ships on the Irish flag, it is not proposed to outsource the entire ship registration process. The administration of ship registration will have to be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Bill and any regulations made under it.
Section 11 sets out the ship registration requirements that will apply to ships that operate domestically. Arising from the Bill, mandatory registration will be extended to personal watercraft such as jet skis, small fast-powered craft and all commercial angling boats regardless of size. Other recreational craft less than 24 m in load line length, including small angling boats used solely for recreational purposes, will not be required to register. However, owners of such vessels may register voluntarily if they so wish. To underpin compliance with safety standards, registration will also be extended to fishing boats less than 15 m in length overall. When commenced, the provisions of the Bill will result in the majority of ships operating domestically in Irish waters being required to be registered. The extension of mandatory registration to high risk vessels, such as personal watercraft and small fast-powered craft, is a response to the growth in their use in recent years and the need, in the interests of safety, to exercise some degree of control over them.
The policy decision involved also responds to and implements recent recommendations of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board in regard to the registration of jet skis. The 2013 Irish Coast Guard statistics show that incidents of jet skis requiring assistance were up 189% on 2012, perhaps due, in part, to the good summer we had last year but also because of the proliferation of these craft. Registration will act as a support to general maritime law enforcement and make it easier to prosecute offending users through the identification of owners.
A simple form of registration is envisaged for personal watercraft and small fast-powered craft operating domestically. As a result of the new provisions contained in the Bill, a registration requirement will apply to all passenger and commercial ships and boats, recreational craft 24 m and greater in load line length; all fishing boats that hold or are required to hold a sea-fishing boat licence granted under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003; personal watercraft, including jet skis, small fast-powered craft; and all commercial angling boats, including certain small angling boats carrying no more than three passengers that are exempt from the requirement to have a passenger boat licence.
State-owned ships in the relevant categories will be required to be registered but, consistent with international practice, warships will continue to be exempt from registration. As mentioned earlier, a current valid registration conferring nationality from another state will be an acceptable form of registration.
Arising from section 12, to be entitled to register, the ship owner must be a qualified person in accordance with section 15 and the ship must comply with prescribed conditions or other requirements which may relate to such matters as safety, environment and security, type, age, size, and trading pattern. These provisions will reinforce the standards required for registration and allow the State to exercise greater control over the condition of ships that choose to register on the Irish register of ships. All Irish ships will have to have their operations controlled and directed from within the State, although different requirements will apply to the different categories and types of ships.
Under section 14, ships that are registered on the existing register books when the new Irish register of ships is established will be automatically transferred to the appropriate part of the new register free of charge and, subject to compliance with the requirements of the Bill, will be registered for a period of up to five years from the date of transfer. Following this period, they will be subject to a requirement to renew registration at intervals of up to ten years in duration.
To ensure equality of treatment, all ship registrations on the new register will be for a period of up to five years, be they existing registered ships that are transferring to the new register or ships registering for the first time. The renewal requirement will allow transferred ships that have ceased to exist to be removed from the register when their registration is not renewed and will ensure that such vessels will not remain on the register indefinitely, thus improving the accuracy of the register.
Persons known as qualified persons will be entitled to register their ships. As outlined in section 15, these include a ship owner who is an Irish citizen, a national of another EU member state and certain corporate bodies. Section 16 requires a qualified person who is not resident in the State or who does not have a registered office in the State to appoint a representative person who resides or has a presence in the State.
Registrars of ships will be designated under section 17 which allows for the continuing involvement of the existing registrars of ships, who are officers of the Revenue Commissioners, in the immediate term. It is proposed that this arrangement will continue until the new register and administrative system is in place and the necessary regulations that will flow from the Bill have been made.
Section 18 provides for the application for and grant of ship registration, including provisional registration where a ship is under construction and non-operative registration to allow for the certification or licensing of a ship, such as for a passenger boat certificate or a sea-fishing boat licence. The section enables the regulation of a range of matters connected to registration application requirements, including procedures, information, declarations and documentation.
Section 19 provides for the renewal of ship registration which is one of a number of new initiatives being introduced. Renewal acts as a checking mechanism to ensure that ships continue to comply with any relevant safety certification or other requirements that apply to them. Section 20 requires the measurement of ships for the purposes of registration and the issuing of a certificate of measurement.
Another of the new concepts in this Bill is the introduction in section 21 of a facility to refuse to register a ship and to remove a ship from the register in a range of circumstances, including those relating to safety, pollution prevention, qualified persons and compliance with standards and conditions. These quality-driven measures, along with registration renewal, are being introduced in the interests of preserving the integrity and improving the accuracy of the register. An appeal process is provided for in specified circumstances, as outlined in section 22.
Provision is made in section 23 for temporary registration of recreational craft under 24 m in load line length. That will accommodate the navigation of such vessels owned by a person normally resident in the State from another country to the State, and will ensure the ship is not detained for not being registered when in foreign waters where ships are required to be registered.
Section 24 introduces the new category of visitor registration. That will accommodate ships that are not registered in another state, in particular non-commercial ships that wish to visit Ireland for short periods not exceeding three months, for example, persons on holiday or taking part in sporting events. It will only apply to personal watercraft, recreational craft 24 m in load line length and greater, small fast-powered craft and small commercial angling boats Without visitor registration, such craft would be required to have full registration on the register under section 11. Ships holding a visitor registration will not be known as Irish ships. A simplified registration process with a nominal fee is envisaged. The details of temporary and visitor registration will be set out in regulations to be made following the enactment of the Bill.
As is the situation currently and common practice internationally, sections 25 and 26 provide for regulations to set out the requirements for the naming, carving and marking of ships in relation to a range of matters such as the official name or number of the vessel or the port of registry. Different carving and marking requirements will apply to different types of ships. Similarly, it is envisaged that the regulations on the naming of ships will allow for a variety of ship name requirements, as well as circumstances where a ship name may not be required for practical reasons in the case of particular types or sizes of ship.
Sections 27 to 29, inclusive, address important issues relating to certificates of registry and requirements for carrying documentation on board the ship. It is normal practice for a ship to be registered by reference to a particular port of registry. In Ireland, there are 13 such ports and those are retained under section 30 and the associated Schedule 3. The Bill enables new ports of registry to be prescribed or a port to cease to be a port of registry. Section 30(2) sets out the considerations that would inform such a decision.
Section 31 facilitates the transfer of the port of registry of a ship from one port of registry in the State to another. Historically, ports of registry were chosen because they were the locations of the local registrars. A ship owner can choose a port of registry from any of the 13 ports, which are Arklow, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick, Skibbereen, Sligo, Tralee, Waterford, Westport and Wexford. However, with the introduction of a central electronic register of ships, the ports of registry will continue in name only.
Part 3 deals with Irish ships and their national colour and character. Sections 33 to 38, inclusive, clarify which ships may be known as Irish ships, and the requirements that apply to the flying of flags by such ships. These include prohibitions on hoisting flags other than the national flag, on pretending to be an Irish ship, on concealing Irish character, and on assuming foreign character. The provisions are mainly based on the existing legislative requirements. Section 37 deals with offences relating to using or assuming Irish national character on a ship that is not Irish.
Part 4 deals with enforcement, which includes a number of improvements to the existing ship registration code under the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 where enforcement and penalties are limited. To address the situation, a number of changes are proposed, including an increase in penalty levels, authorised persons for enforcement purposes, the introduction of a system of fixed payments for certain offences involving personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and small commercial angling boats, and a power of detention for marine surveyors for ship registration related offences.
A range of State personnel who are likely to come across breaches of ship registration requirements in the course of their normal day-to-day activities are designated as authorised persons under section 39 for practical operational reasons. The powers of the authorised persons are set out in section 40. These provisions enable enforcement of the Bill by marine surveyors of my Department, an officer of the Irish Coast Guard and the Revenue Commissioners, a member of the Garda Síochána, a harbour master or a sea fisheries protection officer, certain Defence Forces personnel and an authorised officer of Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Section 41 introduces powers of detention for marine surveyors in relation to a ship in a port in the State or in Irish waters, or an Irish ship in a foreign port, where breaches of specified sections of the Bill arise relating to registration requirements, the carving and marking of the ship, the certificate of registry of the ship, falsely assuming Irish nationality or intent to conceal Irish national character or assuming a foreign character. It is not envisaged that this power of detention will be used except in very serious situations. A system of fixed payments in lieu of prosecution for certain offences is provided for in section 42. That may be used for offences involving failure to register smaller vessels such as personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and certain small commercial angling boats. Fixed payment notices may be issued by the authorised persons provided for in section 39 and by an authorised person appointed by a local authority under section 17 of the Maritime Safety Act 2005. Similar to the approach in the 2005 Act relating to breaches of safety by-laws or the operation of craft, the fixed payment notice will indicate that the person is alleged to have committed an offence, and if the payment specified in the notice, that is, €150 or such other prescribed amount, is made within 21 days of the date of the notice, court proceedings will not be initiated. Prosecution may be brought by the local authority concerned, Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, depending on who serves the notice. That is a more practical approach to enforcement than court prosecution for registration offence cases that involve small vessels.
Part 5 relates to legal issues. Sections 43 to 47, inclusive, carry forward general legal provisions in the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 relating to documentary evidence and declarations related to ship registration. Part 6 deals with private law provisions. Part 6 consists of sections 48 to 62, inclusive. It carries forward and updates where necessary a range of private law provisions for registered ships that were contained in the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. Those relate to title, ownership, transfer of ships, and mortgages on ships.
Part 7 relates to proceedings. Linked to improved enforcement under the Bill, sections 63 to 67, inclusive, contain provisions about proceedings for offences, summary penalties and the liability of both the owner and the master of a ship when certain offences are committed. Section 63 provides for prosecution proceedings under the Bill, the recovery of prosecution costs and the payment and disposal of fines. Summary prosecution proceedings may be initiated by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and, in the case of ship registration offences relating to personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and certain small angling boats, by the local authority concerned or Inland Fisheries Ireland. That recognises the important role local authorities and the IFI can play given their location and activity on the ground throughout the country. It also adds to the ship registration enforcement capability.
As provided for in section 64, summary conviction, except where provided otherwise in the Bill, will give rise to a maximum fine of €5,000. That updates the penalties under the 1955 regime which do not exceed €635 on successful prosecution. Section 65 allows for the prosecution of both the owner and master of a ship in the case of certain specified offences linked to the carrying of a certificate of registry and related documentation, concealing the Irish national character of a ship, or assuming a foreign character. Offences committed by a body corporate are dealt with in section 66.
Part 8 relates to consequential amendments. The purpose of section 68 and the associated Schedule 4 is to provide for consequential amendments to a broad range of legislation. The majority of the amendments arise from the repeal of the provisions of the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 and the need to replace the references to it in the listed Acts with references to the new Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Act.
Part 9 deals with the safety convention. Section 69 provides for a small amendment to the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952 to update the definition of "Safety Convention" which relates to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS. The definition was last updated in the Merchant Shipping Act 2010 and needs to be further updated to facilitate the transposition and implementation of convention amendments agreed in May 2012 into Irish secondary legislation.
Schedule 1 deals with repeals. This Schedule and the associated section 7 provide for the repeal of a number of specified enactments, in whole or in part, that is, the whole of the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 and subsequent amendments to that Act in 1998 and 2006. The provisions of the current Bill will replace the 1955 Act, as amended.
Schedule 2, which deals with revocations, and the associated section 8 revoke a number of statutory instruments as a consequence of the repeal of the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. The statutory instruments were made under the 1955 Act and will no longer be required following the enactment of the Bill.
Schedule 3 relates to ports of registry. It is linked to section 30. Schedule 3 lists the ports of registry in the State for ship registration purposes. It comprises the 13 existing ports of registry.
Schedule 4, and the associated section 68, provide for amendments to a range of existing Acts arising from the introduction of the Bill. The amendments relate primarily to references in those Acts to the Mercantile Marine Act 1955, to an Irish ship, a registered ship, an owner of a ship, a port of registry, tonnage regulations or issues around load line certification.
The aim in presenting this Bill for the consideration of the House is to replace, update and modernise the ship registration regime which dates from the mid-1950s, as well as to enhance in the public interest the safety of ships that operate domestically in Irish waters and that fly the Irish flag. This aim is progressed by placing a particular focus on maritime safety at the heart of ship registration requirements and providing a legislative framework for several new initiatives, including a modernised registration process incorporating the new central electronic register of ships. The introduction of ship registration renewal and the capacity to remove unsafe ships from the register, along with additional enforcement provisions, should improve the overall accuracy of the register.
Given time, I expect the policy considerations that drove the development of this Bill will see fruition and deliver an improved register of ships and registration system, as well as enhanced safety on Irish flagged ships, all of which will be to the mutual benefit of the public, ship owners, the environment and the State as a whole.
I commend the Bill to the House.