The son of a man who died in the Whiddy Island oil disaster has accused the Government of inaction on safety regulations at sea, and called for the urgent introduction of an offence of corporate manslaughter.

Speaking at a memorial service in Bantry, west Cork, to mark the 40th anniversary of the State's deadliest maritime disaster, in which 50 people lost their lives, Michael Kingston was also highly critical of the fact that no senior Government official attended today's commemorative events.

A French-owned oil tanker the Betelgeuse caught fire and exploded as it was unloading crude oil at Whiddy Island in the early hours of 8 January 1979.

Mr Kingston, whose father Tim died in the explosion, told the gathering the Irish State must demonstrate clearly that it has learnt from this "appalling and senseless tragedy".

A lone piper led the Irish and French relatives past dozens of floral wreaths - among them flowers from oil companies Total and Chevron - into St Finbarr's Church where the names of the deceased were read out.

The victims - 42 French, seven Irish and one English - were remembered during a bilingual service conducted by Bishop of Cork and Ross Dr John Buckley.

A special presentation of two books of remembrance made by local school children were presented to representatives of the families.

Mary Warner, wife of David Warner who died in the explosion, accepted the book on behalf of the Irish families.

Hundreds of people attended the memorial service.

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The packed church included many of those in the emergency services who battled the fire that day and took part in the subsequent recovery operation, including members of the RNLI from Baltimore and local units of the Irish Coast Guard,

Minister of State Jim Daly represented the Irish Government, with France and Canada represented by their ambassadors. Mayor of Cork County Patrick Gerard Murphy was also in attendance.

Wreath laying ceremonies took place following the service at the Abbey Cemetary, where two unidentified victims lie, and at sea, close to the jetty where they died.