Surely the Department must have some criteria laid down for entering into negotiations with the salvor in these circumstances. How will the time, expenses and losses incurred by the salvagers be gauged by the Department when they decide on nominating the salvager for the disposal of the wreck?
Salvage takes place between the owner and the salvor. The Department has no role in nominating anyone. The owner or his agent would decide who would carry out the operation.
What happens when the owner is a man of straw?
That is a hypothetical area. I assume the Minister has the ultimate responsibility. The conditions laid down are for the owner and the salvor to negotiate themselves. It often happens in a matter of hours that they can negotiate certain conditions and rewards for taking the salvage.
If the owner cannot be found my fear is that Bill is too loose to deal with the situation in the event of an owner not being located.
It is a matter for the courts at that stage.
There is no recourse to the courts when the owner of the vessel concerned cannot be located.
If the master is still on board the ship he makes the decision. The master is responsible for the vessel in this case. He has to contact the owner but he can make the decision. If he has to make that decision the ship is in a dangerous position.
If a master scuttles a ship who is responsible? A precedent has been created already in that respect in our waters.
It is a criminal act for a master to scuttle a ship in a dangerous position within our territorial waters. That is a different offence. The Bill does not cover a deliberate action to scuttle a ship. We are talking about wrecks resulting from storm damage or other reasons.
If a vessel goes on fire and if the master and crew have left the State, whose responsibility is the direction?
The responsibility rests with the person with authority to control the wreck at that stage. If it is abandoned within our territorial waters the State has control.
Whose responsibiity is it if it is abandoned?
Once the State takes over it is the State's responsibility if the vessel is abandoned. Normally if the vessel is abandoned the salvor who gets on board takes the vessel in charge and he claims salvage rights from the owner.
The point Deputy Sheehan is making is that when a disaster occurs at sea a heavy responsibility devolves on the owner of the vessel concerned. There has been reluctance in the past on the part of owners to come forward. In one such case there were conflicting claims to ownership which caused further confusion. Deputy Sheehan is asking if this section of the Bill gives the court and the Minister sufficient authority to deal with the situation where an owner is reluctant to come forward, where somebody is trying to escape their responsibility. He felt that the Bill should be strengthened to give the courts and the Minister more authority over evasive owners.
If the owner refuses to remove a wreck or to have anything to do with it, then the harbour or local authority may remove it and recover the cost from the owner. That is the only avenue left open to us at present. Who reimburses the local authority which has no money to give the harbour authority?
It claims the ship's salvage costs from the owner.
What happens if the ship's salvage costs are negligible?
We are returning to the original point. One must go to the Department and make a case to reimburse the local authority as the Department has ultimate responsibility.
If finance is not available from the owners, insurers or salvors of the vessel, will the Department accept responsibility to remove the wreck? This is a simple question and I would like the Minister to make a provision for it in the Bill.
I would be foolish to do so because it could be abused. Under no circumstances could I allow anyone to accept the inclusion of this provision in the Bill. It would mean that owners who considered a vessel as useless would be able to leave it and let the taxpayer pay the costs. The owner should pay for it, but he would not do so if he believed the State would accept responsibility. Therefore, I could not accept the inclusion of such a provision in the Bill.
I assume Deputy Sheehan has been understood. The State would have to pay to salvage the vessel if there was a pollution risk and the local authority did not have funding. The Minister is saying that access will always be available, but this will mean paying the costs. If we include this in the Bill, parties, which should accept responsibility, will not do so because they know the State will pay the costs. Therefore, it is unrealistic to write it in tablets of stone, although a valid point has been made. The Minister has said we will have access to the Department. No local authority has the money in their estimates for expensive salvage costs around our coastline. Therefore, a once-off special transfer is needed to deal with the problem.
The point made by Deputy Sheehan has been adequately dealt with. The Minister is satisfied that he is unable to go further.
Perhaps we will introduce an amendment on Report Stage.
Deputy Lawlor has clarified the position fairly well. If damage was caused to the environment, the ship and its owners would be well known, they would be bonded and they would be able to claim the costs back from their insurance company. I cannot include a provision in the Bill that the State will pay the costs of any eventuality because it would be unfair to the tax-payer.
We must continue because we have had adequate discussion on this matter.
Perhaps we can deal with this issue on Report Stage.
The matter may be raised again on Report Stage.