Thursday, 6 March 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
4. Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport the action he has taken on recommendations made, specifically 8.2 and 8.3, in the report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board on the sinking of the Rising Sun; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10003/08]
Deputy Noel Dempsey: The recommendations referred to by the Deputy are contained in a report published by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, on 28 May 2007. The report relates to the tragic capsizing and sinking of the fishing vessel the Rising Sun in fishing grounds off the County Wexford coast on 29 November 2005, with the loss of two lives. I convey again my sympathies to the families on their tragic loss.
The Department has examined the MCIB recommendations with a view to addressing any shortcomings in either the statutory basis of the regimes covering fishing vessels or enforcement arrangements. With regard to recommendation 8.2 to which the Deputy referred, surveys of fishing vessels less than 15 m long are carried out on behalf of the Department of Transport by an approved panel of surveyors. The Department updated and renewed this panel in 2007, during which year it interviewed applicant surveyors.
As part of the interview process, applicants were required to show an understanding of the importance of informing the fishing vessel owners of the necessity to immediately notify the surveying authority of any alterations in equipment or structure or the intended use of their vessel. Recommendation 8.3 makes reference to the declaration of compliance, recommending that this should include a report of the type of fishing equipment fitted at the time of the survey of the vessel and the intended purpose of the vessel. The declaration of compliance is contained in an annex to the code of practice in respect of fishing vessels less than 15 m.
The Department published the code of practice for the design, construction and equipment of small fishing vessels in 2004. The code sets minimum standards of safety for the vessel to protect all persons on board. It covers vessel design, construction, machinery, safety equipment and stability issues. In 2007 the emphasis was on bringing in safety regulations covering 15-24 m vessels where previously there had been no regulatory regime. The code for vessels under 15 m is being reviewed and both recommendations, 8.2 and 8.3, will be fully covered in any amendments or improvements to the declaration of compliance.
The Department has implemented a comprehensive regulatory framework for fishing vessels to ensure a higher level of safety. This is being achieved through an approach that separates the fleet into three categories. The first is less than 15 m in length and would include the Rising Sun, where a non-statutory code of practice is in operation; the other two are 15 to 24 m and over 24 m and in both cases there is now a statutory regime in place. Fishing vessel safety must rely not only on the introduction of regulations but on compliance with them. This, in turn, may require not only specific training but also an increasingly rigorous enforcement regime.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Like the Minister, I offer my sympathies to those who lost people in the Rising Sun incident. The conclusions of the report have been in print for one year and the Minister says that as of today he intends to do something about them but has not done so as yet. I am unhappy that his Department has not implemented the recommendations in full. We must hold him to account on this issue.
The vessel was overloaded. The load on the vessel when the certificate was given was changed, making it less stable for the conditions on the day, the equipment on board and so on. A significant number of other fishing vessels may have been similarly altered. The purpose of the marine investigation report was that the Department would act and that the documents of compliance and code of practice would reflect any changes that might happen in the life of a boat and what its skipper or owners would make. Why has the Department not insisted on national compliance with these proposals, published over one year ago, in view of the serious issues involved and the danger posed to other boats?
Deputy Noel Dempsey: As I explained to the Deputy, the priority since the publication of this report was to get the regulations in place for the larger 14 to 24 m fishing vessels. That decision was made in view of the circumstances and because they are likely to have more people on board, with a greater risk for crew. In that sense I support what the Department has done in prioritising that area. There was no code for the 15 to 24 m vessels and it was decided to put a regulatory regime in place. We are now reviewing the code of practice for fishing vessels less than 15 m in length to ensure those recommendations are put in place.
In answer to the Deputy, the priority was to put a regulatory regime in place for the 15 to 24 m vessels. There was already one in place for vessels under 15 m and that will now be reviewed in light of the recommendation.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I remain unhappy, while acknowledging that the Minister is attempting to do something with boats that are larger than this particular one. Of all the boats in this category, since the recommendation was made the Minister has done absolutely nothing. The Department has failed in its duty of care and it is a disgrace and a shame that it has not happened. I shall continue to press the Minister as regards progress on this very important and significant matter.
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