The purpose of this Bill is to enable the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which was negotiated in 1948, to be implemented. An earlier Convention, which was negotiated at an international conference held in 1929, was implemented here by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1933, and came into operation in 1934. In 1948 a further conference was convened in London on the initiative of the British Government to consider the revision of the 1929 Convention and to bring it into conformity with modern safety requirements.
The new Convention was signed by the delegates of 30 nations, including Ireland, and was expressed to come into force 12 months after 15 countries, including seven with not less than 1,000,000 gross tons of shipping, had conveyed their acceptance of it. The necessary number of acceptances have now been secured, and the Convention will come into force on 19th November next. It is proposed to accept the Convention on behalf of this country as soon as this legislation, which is necessary to implement it, has been enacted.
Up to the present, all the International Conferences dealing with this question of safety of life at sea have been convened on the initiative of the British Government but that work will now presumably be transferred to the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation when that body is set up. The Convention for the establishment of that organisation has already been accepted by this country. Throughout the progress of the departmental examination of the 1948 Safety Convention there was close consultation with the shipping industry here in the matter of the new safety requirements. Before the Irish delegation took part in the Conference, both shipping and labour interests were consulted and when the Convention was in final form, and before this Bill was prepared, the organisations representing both sides of the industry were consulted again.
All points of difficulty were discussed and this is an agreed measure as far as the industry is concerned. It will be appreciated that our aim, on the one hand, is to ensure that advantage should be taken of the modern aids of science and that "safety first" should be the guiding principle of the sea and, on the other hand, that the burdens imposed on the Irish shipping industry should not be too onerous. In accepting the principles of the Safety Convention we are joining with the other maritime nations in maintaining adequate standards of safety.
The 1948 Convention, like its predecessor, the 1929 Convention, applies only to passenger ships and to cargo ships of a certain size and then only when such ships are engaged in international voyages as defined in the Bill. In some respects the powers sought in the present Bill go somewhat beyond those required to implement the 1948 Convention. For example, the provisions of Sections 11 and 15 in relation to life-saving appliances and radio would enable, if orders were subsequently made, certain requirements of the Convention to be applied to cargo ships of less than 500 tons gross which do not come within the scope of the Convention. I have, however, given an assurance to the interests concerned that before any rules are made which go beyond the strict requirements of the Convention either because they set up a higher standard than the Convention requires or because they apply Convention requirements to ships outside the scope of the Convention, there will be the fullest consultation with both sides of the shipping industry.
I am anxious, however, that we should keep abreast with modern developments in the safety sphere and that the regulations which will be made will be as far-reaching as is consistent with practical considerations of shipping space and cost of equipment. It is in compliance with the recommendation of the Conference which prepared the Convention that we should endeavour to apply its principles as far as practicable to non-Convention ships.
The Seanad will probably be satisfied if I deal with the provisions of the Convention which introduced major advances on the standards set up by the 1929 Convention. Section 10 of the Bill provides for the making of construction rules, prescribing the requirements in respect of the hull, equipment and machinery of passenger steamers. An important new provision in the Convention relates to structural fire protection in passenger ships and effect will be given to this requirement by regulations. The requirements in regard to construction and also to life-saving appliances dealt with in Sections 10 and 11 of the Bill apply only to new ships, the keels of which are laid down on or after the date on which the Convention comes into opertion. We are required by the Convention, however, to consider the arrangements on existing ships which do not comply with the provisions of the new Convention. In that respect this 1948 Convention follows the precedent set down in the 1929 Convention.
In the 1929 Convention cargo ships came into the picture only in respect of the requirement to carry radiotelegraph apparatus. The 1948 Convention goes further and for the first time includes regulations requiring the carriage of life saving and fire appliances on cargo ships of 500 tons and upwards and provides for the issue to cargo ships of safety equipment certificates covering appliances of that character.
There will be a number of interesting features in the regulations to give effect to these provisions relating to life-saving appliances. In future, lifeboats for all new ships must as a general rule be not less than 24 feet in length and have internal buoyancy. If more than 60 persons are to be carried, motor lifeboats or boats fitted with approved means of mechanical propulsion must be provided. Every passenger ship, irrespective of tonnage, and every cargo ship of over 1,600 tons gross will be required to have at least one motor or other mechanically propelled lifeboat of approved type. In large passenger ships, lifeboats permanently fitted with radio equipment must be carried. On the smaller passenger ships, and on all cargo ships as well, there must be portable radio sets for use in the lifeboats. One of the more important provisions which has been introduced is that in future all new ships of over 150 feet in length must be fitted with mechanical davits. These davits must be sufficiently strong to enable lifeboats to be launched with their full complement of persons and equipment, even should the ship be listing as much as 15 degrees. Powers to provide these provisions of the Convention are contained in the Bill.
The major change in regard to radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony is that when the Convention comes into force all passenger ships and all cargo ships of 1,600 tons gross and upwards will have to keep continuous watch on the distress frequency either by means of qualified radio officers or, if no officer is listening, by means of the auto-alarm, an instrument which on receiving a distress signal will operate a system of alarm bells. The Convention also extends the compulsory installation of radio to cover cargo ships between 500 and 1,600 tons gross. This latter requirement can be met by fitting either a radiotelephone or a radiotelegraph installation.
Another important change is the requirement concerning the compulsory installation of direction-finding apparatus. Under the earlier Convention, only passenger ships of 5,000 tons gross and upwards had to carry these direction-finders, but under the new Convention the requirement will be extended to all ships of 1,600 tons and upwards, passenger and cargo, when engaged on international voyages. This is a major advance because a direction-finder is not only a valuable aid in fixing a ship's position, but can be used to guide a ship to a vessel or even to a lifeboat sending out a distress message.
Section 19 deals with radio navigational aids, such as radar, other than direction-finders. The use of these radio aids on board ship is not made obligatory under the Convention, and it is not proposed to make such installations obligatory under the Bill. The purpose of the Convention, and of the regulations which we will make under this Bill, when passed, will be to ensure that where radar or any other radio navigational aid is carried on board ship, such equipment should be fully efficient.
Sections 20-31 relate to surveys and certificates and I think it will be sufficient if I explain in very general terms what precisely is involved. The Convention applies to the ships of countries whose Governments have accepted the Safety Convention when the ships are engaged in international voyages. The rules to be made under this Bill will apply to Irish ships on international voyages and in certain circumstances to coastal and other classes of ships. Most of the rules will apply to foreign ships when in our ports. Ships not on the Irish register may be required to produce certificates issued by the Governments of the countries in which they are registered. There are four main types of certificates, viz.:—
(1) Safety certificates which will be issued in respect of passenger ships on compliance with the requirements as to construction, life-saving appliances, radio and direction-finding equipment;
(2) Safety equipment certificates which will be issued in respect of cargo ships on compliance with the requirements as to life-saving appliances;
(3) Radio certificates which will be issued to cargo ships on compliance with the requirements as to radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony; and
(4) Exemption certificates which may be issued to either a passenger or cargo ship when they are exempted from full or partial compliance with any of the requirements.
The provisions of this part of the Bill cover the issue of all the necessary certificates and ensure the recognition of corresponding certificates issued by other Convention countries. Both the safety equipment certificates and the safety radio certificates are new types of certificates.
The fees to be charged for inspections made and certificates issued will be prescribed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The settlement of the fees for the various services will have regard to the need to recover to the Exchequer a reasonable proportion of the cost of the service rendered and will also have regard to the corresponding scale of charges in other countries with which our merchant shipping have to compete.
There are a number of other matters covered in the Bill to which reference should be made. Section 37, imposing an obligation on masters of Irish vessels to assist persons in distress at sea, replaces a similar provision in the 1933 Act but amends in two important respects, the existing obligation. In the first place, it extends this obligation to cover aircraft in distress on the water; and secondly, the obligation to provide assistance on receipt of distress information from any source whatsoever.
Section 38 relates to the carriage of dangerous goods. The provisions of the 1929 Convention relating to dangerous goods applied to passenger steamers only. Under the new Convention, regulations may be made setting out certain broad requirements relating to the carriage of dangerous goods in both passenger and cargo ships. The Convention requires the Governments of accepting countries to supplement these provisions by rules providing in particular for the packing and stowage of such goods.
Section 39 deals with the carriage of grain. This is the first time that provisions governing the carriage of grain have been included in an International Safety Convention. Provision is, however, already made in our legislation for the safe carriage of grain cargoes in Irish ships wherever they may load and for the safe carriage of grain cargoes on foreign ships loading or arriving at Irish ports. The Bill proposes to repeal existing legislation relating to the carriage of grain and to replace it with new provisions set out in Section 39 in accordance with the requirements of the Convention.
Senators will appreciate that the Bill gives fairly wide powers for the making of rules and regulations. The Bill is, in fact, an enabling Bill. I think that is unavoidable owing to the large body of technical detail involved which it would be impracticable to include in the Bill itself. It is provided, however, that every order, rule and regulation which may be made must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and may be annulled in the usual manner by a resolution there. Many of the rules to be made will, however, be little more than amendments of existing rules and, as I have already informed the Senate, these will be settled in consultation with the industry itself. In cases where specific requirements are not laid down in the convention and there is a discretion, we will probably be guided to a large extent by the practice adopted in other neighbouring maritime countries. In general, I think it can be said that the safety equipment carried on our ships is already of a high order and it is anticipated that no undue expense is likely to be incurred by any shipowners bringing their vessels into line with the new requirements.