Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 29 Oct 1952

Vol. 41 No. 1

Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Bill, 1952—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

This is a Bill of very great importance and I am surprised that some of our front bench Senators have not given us the benefit of their wisdom and eloquence on it. There seems to be a curious silence on it. It is not the lowering or the increasing of tariffs or the equipping of bigger and better airfields that is in question, but human life is at stake. It is with some trepidation that I rise to open the debate when I expected only to intervene at the end of a long and serious discussion.

There are one or two points I would like to raise, more in the form of queries, perhaps, than of suggestions. This is a difficult Bill for a layman, both on account of its technical nature and the fact that it is an amending Bill. Will the Minister give us one or two assurances on important points? The first point concerns the provision for the inspection of lifeboats. This, I take it, is covered under page 7 of the Bill, Section 11 (1) (q), "the examination at intervals to be prescribed by the rules of any appliances or equipment required by the rules to be carried."

My experience of cross-channel shipping and other shipping is that the lifeboats look almost like permanent fixtures. At times, I see no signs of careful oiling or of recent handling of the equipment. Perhaps my inexperienced eye has been deceived in the matter. Would the Minister assure us that these lifeboats are raised and lowered and carefully tested at reasonably frequent intervals?

I should also like to know who inspects those lifeboats and who is responsible for the inspection? Are they men trained in the ways of the sea who know exactly what to look for, or who are they? I presume that is covered under the original Bill but it is a matter of the very greatest importance to us who must still travel by sea and not by air as we are not very affluent people. I hope the Minister can give me an assurance on that.

Further, I would like to have an assurance that there are enough life-boats to take care of the normal complement of a ship. There have been serious cases in the past where there simply had not been enough life-boats for the people on board. Is that covered by law? I would like an assurance on that.

The experience of a friend of mine which he mentioned to-day causes me to ask another question. He was on the Innisfallen when it sank in the Mersey in December, 1940. It was found that only one or two boats could be lowered in the time at their disposal. What saved the lives of almost all the people on board was the provision of rafts. Is it carefully safeguarded in the Bill that there will be plenty of rafts in cases of emergency of this kind? I should like some assurance from the Minister on that.

A third point is the question of lifebelts. In the Manchester Guardian within the last few days there was an illuminating article on a new type of lifebelt—a great improvement on the rather flimsy canvas articles that have been provided in the past. Is there a possibility that the use of these new rubber lifebelts will be enforced under this Act? I will ask the Minister to keep that in mind.

There is another point in regard to which I would crave the indulgence of the Chair to raise. He might think it is not directly relevant, but it could, I think, be taken under Section 38. I refer to the question of oil damage from ships going past our shores at present. This is becoming a very serious menace, through the deposit of crude oil or what is called "sludge" on our shores. Anyone who has visited the west or south coast in the last few years knows just how serious this is. Beaches are spoiled and property is damaged. Bird life is very seriously endangered, and fishing is, I think, harmed.

I would draw the Minister's attention to an article in The Times recently, if he has not seen it already. The article in question appeared in The Times dated the 23rd August, 1952. It points out that certain county councils in England have become liable for very serious damages as a result of oil contamination on clothing on beaches under their control. In many cases, they have had to put up warning notices disclaiming liability. We have all seen the sad sight of seabirds lying dead on the shore, their wings clotted and rotted with oil, and it seems to me that something must be done to face this problem very soon. I do not suppose it could be worked in under Section 38 of the Bill, as it does not exactly endanger human life, but the Minister has said that the Bill gives fairly wide powers. Would it be possible in any way to deal with this oil menace under this Bill? Probably not, I think, but could the Minister reassure us by saying that he has some legislation in mind to deal with this serious menace? It is not simply a sentimental matter of the poor little birds suffering and that kind of thing; it is going to be a very serious source of damage to the State. There are various expedients for stopping it, but it would not be right to go into details now. I welcome the opportunity which you, Sir, have granted me of drawing attention to it.

I should like to say, following Senator Stanford's remarks, that what struck me about the Bill was the very efficient way in which it seems to be drawn up, so far as the safety precautions required are concerned. At present, the public mind is very agitated by the disasters which have occurred on the railways in England. Thank goodness, we have not had any here, but there is a feeling that safety precautions have been very much relaxed in the past few years, especially since the war, and that the safety rules are not being observed. One of the most obvious things which seems to require attention on the railways in England is the question of timing. Everything seems to be late; in other words, there seems to be terrific inefficiency.

I could not help feeling, while the Minister was making his remarks, that a very great deal of trouble had apparently been gone to in preparing the Convention and I am very glad that we here are going to subscribe to it and ratify it. I very much welcome the Bill and I support it fully, but I think Senator Stanford has put his hand on one important point, the matter of inspection. I have not read the Bill fully, but it seems to me that there is not much use in making elaborate rules in respect of any sphere of activity—I am sure there is provision, but it is no harm to stress the point—unless we are going to see that they are carried out and Senator Stanford is quite right when he says that not only should proper provision be made for inspection but there should be the right kind of inspection. It should not be mere cursory inspection. We already have a very good record in Aer Lingus, where there must be a very fine system of inspection and where the safety precautions seem to be very well observed so far. I hope the same will be done in connection with this Convention.

I did intend to say something about the lifeboats, but Senator Stanford has already spoken on the point. I have noticed, whenever I walked up and down the deck of the old mailboat, at any rate, that the ropes on the life-boats looked as if they had not been used for umpteen years, and if one of those boats were filled with passengers and put over the side, the ropes might easily break and cause disaster instead of avoiding it. I welcome these proposals as being a very efficient set of proposals.

All sides of the House will welcome the Bill as one which proposes to give effect to an international agreement. It is a Bill more for Committee Stage than for Second Reading, but we are all very pleased to hear from the Minister that, so far as life-saving precautions are concerned, our ships are as well equipped as most are, and the various sections which propose to go further in the matter aim at keeping abreast of the times. We should all congratulate the Minister on his decision to do so.

Maidir leis na lochtaí a fuair an Seanadóir Stanford ar an scéal, is é an tuiscint a bhaineas as an mBille gur Bille fónta é agus gur Bille é a dheimhníos dúinn go bhfuil an Rialtas agus an tAire atá i mbun gnóthaí eolasach ar na nithe atá ag teastáil. Molaimse cur an Bhille seo os ár gcóir. Tá rian ann go raibh imní an scéil ar an Aire agus ar an Rialtas agus is fónta an rud a thabhairt faoi ndeara ann go bhfuil an dlí a bhí ann cheana agus a bhaineann le mórloingeas le cur i bhfeidhm ar loingeas i bhfad níos lú agus ar beagnach an uile cineál loingis a théann thar cuanta na tíre seo amach. Is eol dom dár ndóigh, go bhfuil soláthar déanta cheana féin maidir le loingeas na hÉireann chun go mbeadh na nithe sin, sábháil anamnacha na ndaoine agus compord na ndaoine, faoi chúram ceart, ach is é an rud fónta atá ann ná go bhfuil leathnú déanta ar na cumhachtaí a bhí ag an Rialtas cheana chun scrúdú agus léirmheastóireacht a dhéanamh ar loingeas. Molaimse é sin agus is dóigh liom gur chóir dúinn bheith buíoch don Rialtas an Bille seo a thabhairt isteach.

Maidir le ní nó dhó eile ba mhaith liom beagán a rá. An Seanadóir Stanford, gearánann sé faoi ola a doirtear ar an bhfarraige agus a dhéanann dochar ana-mhór ar éanlaithe mara agus ar na cóstaí. Ní thuigimse an bhfuil aon leigheas againn air sin. Dár ndóigh, is mílte fada amach ar an bhfairrge mhóir a doirtear an ola sin agus is amhlaidh a thagann sé isteach in aice leis an geósta. Ní heol dom go bhfuil cumhacht ag aon duine doirteadh an ola sin a chosaint. Níl fhios agam, taobh amuigh den teora trí mhíle ón gcósta, cionnas d'fhéadfaimís é a chosaint. Rud eile dhe, measaimse gur de thoradh timpiste an doirteadh seo agus nach le toil chinnte nó toil uile nó díobhála ag aon duine é. Is dóigh liom gur tubaist é agus ní dóigh liom go bhfuil aon leigheas ag duine ar an scéal.

Tá rud eile ann gur mhaith liom, mar ba mhaith le Seanadóirí eile, go bhfuighimís beagán eolais ina thaobh. Is é sin ná: cad é an gléas scrúdúcháin, an gléas breithniúcháin, atá ann chun a thabhairt faoi ndeara ar lucht loingis na nithe atá sa Bhille agus na nithe is riachtanach leo a bheith le fáil ar a gcuid loingis? Níl fhios agam an é Bord Cuain Bhaile Átha Cliath a dhéanfadh an tsuirbhé nó Bord Cuain na Gaillimhe a dhéanfadh é thiar i nGaillimh nó Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí, a dhéanann a lán rudaí, a dhéanfadh é i leith loingis.

Rud eile, ar mhaith liom eolas d'fháil ina thaobh: an bhfuil údarás againne scrúdú nó léirmheas a dhéanamh ar loingeas atá cláraithe i dtír eile seachas Éire? Má thagann loingeas paisnéirí go Cuan Bhaile Átha Cliath, go Corcaigh nó go Ros Láir, an bhfuil údarás againn daoine a chur a bord le deimhniú dúinn féin i leith na rialacha maidir le sábháil agus compord an locht paisnéirí? Má thagann bád trádála ón Fhrainnc nó ó Mheiriceá an bhfuil údarás againn dul ar bord na loinge agus locht d'fháil ar aon easnamh ar an ngléas sábhála, má tá a leithéid ann?

Ba mhaith liom eolas d'fháil ar na nithe sin ach maidir leis an mBille molaim an Rialtas mar go ngabhann siad chucu féin údarás níos leithne ná an t-údarás a bhí acu le loingeas a bhreithniú agus a dheimhniú i dtaobh longa beaga trádála a thagann anseo le gual, le hearraí nó le haon last eile, go mbeidh soláthar déanta acu i gcóir sábháil na ndaoine atá ag déanamh slí bheatha mar fhoireann iontu.

I must confess that I am not quite sure of the significance of the use of the term "steamer" in the title of the Bill, but the Bill is intended to apply to all merchant ships whether they are propelled by steam, electricity, atomic energy or any other power.

I think that Senator Stanford will be reassured regarding the points raised by him if he re-reads Section 11. Under Section 11 there is power taken to make regulations dealing with life-saving appliances and among the regulations which will be made will be those defined under paragraph (b) which relates to the number and description and the mode of construction of boats, life-rafts, life-jackets and life-buoys, and under paragraph (e) the quantity, quality and description of other buoyant apparatus to be carried in addition to boats, rafts and life-buoys, and under paragraph (n) which relates to the practice in ships of boat drills and fire drills. In respect of most of these matters there are regulations in force at present. The new regulations will carry on the provisions of the old but will supplement them in so far as modern technical development makes it possible and in so far as experience shows it to be necessary.

The inspections are carried out by inspectors of the Department of Industry and Commerce and by ships' surveyors. They are very competent and highly-trained people. The certificate of safety which is issued to a vessel in respect of its life-saving appliances operates for a period of 24 months only —that is a provision of Section 20—or for such shorter periods as may be prescribed, and it may be extended as a special concession only for one further month. Within each two-year period, therefore, the ship has to be surveyed again in respect of the suitability of its life-saving appliances and get a new certificate that they are adequate and in proper order.

The number of life-boats carried will also be prescribed in relation to the authorised maximum number of passengers which any vessel may carry. The inspection of ships, both our own ships, whose safety certificates are issued here, and foreign ships which come into our ports, is carried out methodically and conscientiously. In fact, quite recently an American ship which came into the port of Dublin, after suffering some storm damage, was prevented by our officers from leaving because it had not the requisite minimum life-saving apparatus on board, and it was not permitted to go until that defect had been made good.

The obligations we accept under the Convention are first to survey our own ships, to see that they conform with the requirements of the Convention, and certify them when they do; and second, to see that no foreign ships use our ports unless they comply with the requirements of the Convention in these respects.

The matter of oil damage to our beaches is hardly relevant to the Bill, but as it was raised I would like to say something about it. It is quite obvious that we can do nothing by legislation except control the discharge of oil sludge in our own territorial waters, ports and harbours, and harbour authorities have at the moment ample powers under existing legislation to prohibit the discharge of sludge in harbours, estuaries or rivers. The problem that has arisen, however, is not due to any breach of these harbour regulations. The practice of oil tankers of washing out their tanks on their return journeys has created this problem, but experience seems to show that they do it as much as 50 miles out, and that the sludge comes ashore even when the washing is done as far away from land as that.

I have communicated with all the shipping companies who use our ports, drawing their attention to this problem and urging them to co-operate in preventing any practice which would accentuate it, but it is recognised that it is a problem which can be settled, if at all, only by international action. I think that some investigation carried out by the British authorities showed that sludge came ashore upon beaches even when the washing of the oil tanks was done in the middle of the Atlantic. At any rate, investigations are proceeding on the part of the British authorities to find out how this sludge drifts on the water, and what measures could be taken to divert it from the shores of Europe.

There is an international committee considering the matter and we have offered to co-operate with that committee in any way we could in eliminating this problem which, as Senators know, is not merely one for this country—in fact it has been experienced far more acutely on the south coast of England than even on our own southern beaches. If there were anything we could do to stop it it would be done but it is so obviously a problem outside our control that the only steps we can take is to offer to co-operate fully and wholeheartedly in any international action that may be adopted.

As was stated, the Bill is a hardy one that lends itself to debate here. Once the principle is accepted there is not much more to do about it. The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Minister for Industry and Commerce to make Orders, rules and regulations from time to time in accordance with the requirements of the International Convention which we are accepting. These rules and regulations will, of course, be the same or will be kept as close as possible to the rules and regulations made in other European countries.

The form of the Bill is necessitated by the fact that changes in these rules and regulations are occasionally required and that it is better for an appropriate authority to make them, in consultation with the interests concerned, rather than have technical legislation here which few of us would pretend to understand and have it made subject to amendment from time to time as change is required.

The form of the Bill is similar to that of the 1933 Bill and, I think, similar to the legislation being enacted in every country to give effect to this Convention.

On a point of explanation. There is a means of coping with this problem, namely, by insisting that ships should be cleaned out at each port. Useful by-products can be obtained from the contents of the tanks that are cleaned out.

The Senator will appreciate that not 1 per cent. of the problem is caused by ships that call at our ports.

Question put and agreed to.
Ordered: That the next Stage be taken on the next sitting day.