Subsection (9) states that the authorised officer is entitled to question the person in charge of the vessel as to the nature of the cargo and the threat of pollution from the vessel or cargo. I see problems arising here. Recently a ship was in distress off Dublin Bay and a number of containers were washed up along the shoreline. Later it emerged there were dangerous substances in those containers. Indeed, the matter was raised in the Dáil and the Minister for the Marine made a statement in regard to it. It was not possible to make information available on the contents of those containers. I understand there is a practice, for example, that if a ship is leaving a port and at the last minute vacant space is available, extra cargo can be taken and there is no record taken of it. The official term for listing the cargo is the ship's manifest. On every occasion the ship's manifest may not record the full details of what is in the containers, what is the nature of the cargo. That creates problems, as occurred recently in Dublin Bay. This section is fine in so far as it goes but we need to change the law generally to ensure that the ship's manifest lists precisely all items contained in the cargo.
Deputy Haughey's point is relevant. There were many questions regarding the contents of that particular cargo and the fact that the ship's manifest did not include what was the most dangerous aspect of the cargo.
Section 11 emphasises the point made earlier that we are giving a wide range of powers to an authorised officer to question any person belonging to the ship or any other person who may be able to give an account of the vessel or its cargo or apparel. Subsection (4) goes on to allow the Minister, by order, to amend subsection (3). This is another order and regulation that the Minister has taken on to himself which Deputy Dukes did not notice. Some of the powers that the authorised person may have are listed under subsection (3) but there may be others added to that, for example, the question of the nature of the cargo and the threat of pollution.
These are important powers but we have no description or knowledge of the experience and qualifications of the authorised officer. In the previous section we are giving authority to the Garda Síochána to search and seize any vessel or person who may be involved in plundering a vessel. Here there may in fact be a wider list of offences or areas that could give rise to offences. One of them has just been quoted in relation to the authenticity or otherwise of the ship's manifest where the cargo may be incorrectly — inadvertently or otherwise — construed. We must insist that the authorised person have certain qualifications. I would like the Minister to go a bit further on this issue. The type of examination suggested in this section is more appropriately the responsibility of a peace officer or an officer of the Garda Síochána rather than an authorised officer. In an emergency situation there are questions that have to be asked about the nature of cargo and so on. However, the Garda Síochána should be involved somehow, in a consultative capacity at least, and included in this section. I am not satisfied with the range of powers that can be given to an authorised officer who is not described other than very minimally in the definition section.
I believe that, if anything, this section is too weak in terms of the powers of the authorised officer. While he is entitled, under this section, to seek information and to hold an examination into the relevant matters, that is as far as he can go. If wrong information is given or if he suspects that there is other cargo on board he does not have the right to further examine the cargo or take appropriate action. The interpretation section clearly defines who an authorised officer will be. I am certain that in this instance it will be some senior person who knows what he is about. I cannot see any Minister appointing somebody off the street as an authorised officer. If, as Deputy Haughey has described, there is a serious problem in terms of possible pollution and we are not getting proper information, it is in the interest of the public at large that the person on the spot should have the power to inspect and be satisfied that the information that they have been given is correct. I ask the Minister if he is satisfied that this section is strong enough to protect the interests of the public in the type of situation that Deputy Haughey outlined. I will welcome a commitment from the Minister to consider this on Report Stage and introduce an amendment to increase the powers.
I do not condone the behaviour of some people, both owners and those in charge of some ships investments, in either taking unsuitable vessels to sea or perhaps having crews not fully qualified. We all appear to back off when it comes to taking the powers that are now necessary to deal with such people. If somebody is not prepared to come forward and give correct information and there are reasonable grounds to suspect that misinformation is being given it is in the public interest that the authorised officers have powers of inspection to satisfy themselves that everything is in order. I would hesitate to impose an obligation that the authorised officer have a member of the Garda Síochána accompanying them because in the kind of situations being considered here, split-second decisions have to be taken. If one has to go searching for a member of the Garda Síochána to come along to further examine or inquire into what is aboard a ship it may be too late. We may have to trust the senior people that will be appointed as authorised officers to deal with these situations in a professional manner and in the public interest. I ask the Minister to satisfy himself that there is sufficient power being given here and if he is not satisfied I would ask him to come back on Report Stage with an amendment.
Under section 729 of the 1894 Act an inspector has the power to inspect cargo. Deputy Haughey's point, which is relevant, caused serious concern to the Department when the cargo washed up along the coast was not on the manifest of the shipping agents. Unfortunately, we are dealing with international legislation where ships are coming from elsewhere into this country. The EC draft directive on dangerous goods which will come into force in 1995 will make it imperative for the shipping agent to provide an up-to-date manifest on all the cargo aboard a ship. Members will appreciate that it has to be international legislation as distinct from national legislation. We cannot make the law because it would be ignored elsewhere, but it is an EC directive as and from now.
Regarding the point made by Deputy Costello, was that on the Garda Síochána?
My concern was that the functions of the authorised officer would be extremely important and involve matters like pollution, the nature of the cargo or whatever might be in it that might not be on the ship's manifest. I said there was provision for further functions being given but that, unless we had very strong criteria established for the appointment of authorised officers, then we would have to think about having some other procedure, and that is why I mentioned the Garda Síochána. I was underlining the importance of us defining quite clearly the criteria required for the authorised officer so that the work could be done and done properly.
I accept that.