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A Naval Service diver who was involved in migrant rescue in the Mediterranean is one of seven recipients of Defence Forces value awards conferred by President Michael D Higgins on Wednesday evening writes Lorna Siggins

Able Mechanician Ryan O’Driscoll, originally from Rush, Co Dublin, and a Naval Service diver for the past three years, was also involved in the recovery operation after the loss of four Irish Coast Guard air crew in the Rescue 116 crash off north Mayo over two years ago.

The Defence Force value awards aim to celebrate outstanding service, and acknowledge the support and encouragement of the families of the recipients.

Also awarded were Corporal Caitriona Lacey, Gunner David Stack, Corporal David McCormack, Private Thomas Carew, Sergeant PJ McCabe and Regimental Sergeant Major John Murray.

Able Mechanician O’Driscoll served on the Naval Service ship LE Samuel Beckett in the Mediterranean during Ireland’s participation in Operation Pontus, a bilateral rescue initiative with Italy, and the now-suspended EUNAVFOR Med Operation Sophia.

As a diver, he participated in many missions in Irish waters and was directly involved in the recovery of the body of Irish Coast Guard co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy from the wreckage of the R116 helicopter off Blackrock island in north Mayo in March, 2017.

He was described in his citation as being a natural leader who has the respect of his peers.

Private Thomas Carew Private Thomas Carew, from Ferrybank in Waterford, was awarded for his “commendable selflessness” in saving the life of a civilian motorcyclist in a road accident in which he was propelled by the impact of the collision into an estuary in high tide.

Private Carew, from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion, was nominated by a former superior.

Cpl David McCormack from Galway, was nominated by many of his comrades from the 1st Infantry Battalion for his response to an assault which left him with life-threatening injuries after he had returned from overseas service with the UN.

Cpl Catriona Lacey from Athlone, Co Westmeath, was nominated by fellow soldiers in 6th Infantry Battalion, having demonstrated moral courage after the loss of her brother, Thomas, to suicide in 2014.

Her father, Frank served 31 years in the Defence Forces brass band as a bugler and played at former president Eamon De Valera’s funeral. He is retired 20 years.

President Higgins said he was pleased to have been asked by Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, head of the Defence Forces, to facilitate the event and “to celebrate the outstanding service given by seven deserving awardees”.

“ I am so pleased to have the opportunity of acknowledging in general, the support given by the families of so many members of our defence forces – a support that makes the contribution of their partners possible,” Mr Higgins said.

“You have all displayed a magnanimous resolve and steadfast commitment to uphold the central values of the Defence Forces, and your individual efforts and service to Ireland are being highlighted in this ceremony today,” Mr Higgins said.

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DevonLive reports on Appledore Shipyard which according to a UK councillor should be renationalised by the government and fully integrated into the operations of the Ministry of Defence.

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the opposition Labour group on Devon County Council, put forward the notice of motion to last Thursday’s full council meeting.

His motion said that the council was gravely concerned that despite having a highly skilled, dedicated, and innovative local work force, the shipyard remains closed, and that to secure its long term future, ensure that defence capacity and resilience are maintained, and provide employment and prosperity to the local community, and the wider county of Devon, it should be renationalised.

Appledore Shipyard closed on March 15 this year when Babcock’s lease expired, despite a union-led protest march, a 9,500-strong petition and the efforts of local MPs.

Speaking on the motion, Cllr Hannaford, said: “To see a successful shipyard turn profit year-on-year and then struggle to secure work for this committed workforce is very unfair and a sad travesty. It’s a huge concern that this important local shipyard remains closed – especially as we know that it has an incredibly skilled and innovative workforce.

For more click here on the calls to save the north Devon shipyard (campaign) that built its final ship for the Irish Naval Service.

Published in Ports & Shipping

A Naval Service ship on Mediterranean rescue several years ago was unable to recover a migrant’s body that it had located in the water for several hours until it could confirm which EU state would accept it, a former mission member has recalled writes Lorna Siggins

The crew of the LÉ Samuel Beckett stood by for a total of four hours until eventually, the Maltese authorities agreed, Able Seaman Ian Trimble, a Naval Service diver, has said.

During that time, four EU coastal states in all had been contacted by the ship, he said, but the situation was complicated by the fact that the body was in international waters,

The harrowing experience was one of several recounted by the Naval Service crew, led by Commander Anthony Geraghty, at a Galway International Arts festival “First Thought” talk convened by Caitriona Crowe and chaired by Judy Murphy.

The LÉ Samuel Beckett (italics) was deployed on several missions during Ireland’s deployment of ships on migrant rescue between 2015 and 2018, when almost 18,000 people were rescued, two babies were delivered and 86 bodies were recovered by 11 Irish ships in all.

EU maritime missions were suspended earlier this year, after Italy’s far-right government refused to continue to accept migrants, but aerial reconnaissance continues. Up to 700 people are reported to have drowned this year so far, according to International Organisation for Migration figures, with an estimated 150 dying last week.

Commander Geraghty, who said he would return if Ireland’s assistance was sought as part of a resumed EU effort, described how he could never understand how anybody would get into a vessel with no lifejackets and no flares.

He said he could only conclude that the lives of migrants at home was “so bad that no matter what happens to them, it’s worth it” when risking a crossing at sea.

In his 29 years with the Naval Service, his three-month mission in the Mediterranean had been “the most fulfilling”, he said.

The barges crowded with between 250 and 800 migrants which the Naval Service came across were particularly challenging, as the crew would know that for every person on the top deck there would be many people locked below, Geraghty said.

If the barge capsized, as it regularly did, those locked below in the hold would drown.

Medical sick berth attendant Seán Doyle said most of the injuries he treated were chemical burns from fuel, along with dehydration and exhaustion.

“I don’t think anything really prepared us...I saw things I wouldn’t want to see, and wouldn’t want anyone else to see,”Petty Officer Trish O’Sullivan, an electrician, said.

O’Sullivan, who served on two Mediterranean missions in 2015 and 2016, said that “military rank goes out the window” during a rescue.

“When you are trying to get everyone on board, safety is paramount,” she said, adding that she did between 700 and 800 squats one day while searching people who were being taken on board ship.

While she recovered several nails and blades, most people carried photos, family albums, heirlooms, and food.

“There might be a drawing their daughter had made...and their clothes would be covered in petrol and faeces, “she said.

Some had little or no clothing and “we tried to protect people’s dignity,” O’Sullivan said.

The four LÉ Samuel Beckett crew showed an excerpt from the documentary, The Crossing, directed by Judy Kelly, which was filmed onboard the ship during its first Mediterranean deployment and broadcast in 2016.

The LÉ Samuel Beckett was deployed in 2016 under a bilateral agreement with Italy, Operation Pontus, and latterly in 2018 under the EU NavFOR Med Operation Sophia which was primarily focused on security and disrupting smuggler activity, and on rescue.

Some 600 Naval Service crew, including 40 medical staff with some Army and Air Corps participants, served on the 11 missions, which were an average of three months in duration, and involved an additional tax-free allowance of about €70 a day while aboard.

Last week, non-governmental organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) confirmed that it was resuming its rescue operations in the central Mediterranean.

The decision was taken after what the NGO said was a “two-year campaign by virtually all EU governments to stop humanitarian action at sea”.

MSF has also condemned the recent return of migrants, caught at sea by the Libyan Coast guard, to the Libyan Tajoura detention centre which was bombed in July, killing 60 people and injuring many others.

Published in Navy
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The Government may delay plans for a 200 million euro “multi-role” Naval Service ship, amid continuing controversy over crewing shortages for the existing fleet writes Lorna Siggins 

A joint civil-military meeting is due to take place today at the direction of Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe, which will focus on “Naval Service capability and operations” according to his department.

Mr Kehoe has asked his officials and military representatives to “fully explore all options to address the challenges in the Naval Service” at the end of a fortnight during which Mr Kehoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar differed initially over why three ships are tied up.

Commodore Malone stated in a Defence Force newsletter in June that 540 personnel had left the service in the past five years, and he had decided “to place two ships in an operational reserve capacity” due to the staff shortages.

These two ships, the LÉ Eithne and LÉ Orla, are still in “operational reserve”, according to the department, while the LÉ Roisín is tied up for a mid-term refit.

Government policy is to maintain a nine-ship fleet – the largest ever in defence wing’s history – and the department says the Naval Service has 88 per cent of its establishment, as in 996 staff as of May 31st this year, compared to an establishment figure of 1,094 staff.

Ordering a new multi-role vessel to replace the flagship, LÉ Eithne is provided for in the Government’s White Paper on Defence as part of a commitment to “ongoing renewal and replacement of naval vessels”, the department says.

The new vessel is a “very significant project”, the department says, but it is still “at the planning stage”.

“Accordingly, no public procurement competition tender documentation has issued to the market at this stage,” the department says.

“ As a longer-term project, it will involve a number of years to completion,” it says.

Minister Kehoe “has a particular focus at present on restoring the Naval Service to full personnel strength”, the department says.

During a Dáíl debate last month (June 13th) on defence forces remuneration, Mr Kehoe said it was “important that we continue to invest in training and equipment” in the military.

During the debate, former Independent TD Mick Wallace referred to National Development Plan capital investment of 541 million euro in defence between 2018-2022 and accused Mr Kehoe of “throwing money at things like new ships for the Naval Service”

A 200 million euro multi-role vessel has “less to do with the Naval Service being able to fulfil its day-to-day duties and much more to do with trying to impress our European colleagues in the Mediterranean”, Mr Wallace said during the debate.

“The multi-role vessel will be capable of carrying a battalion of soldiers along with landing craft. It will also have freight capacity for military vehicles. What in God's name do we need that for? The Minister of State would be better off paying the Defence Forces personnel,” Mr Wallace continued.

On October 3rd, 2018 Independent TD Seamus Healy called on Mr Kehoe to “scrap” plans for the multi-role vessel in the light of the “current position on pay and conditions of employment in the defence forces.

“I do not believe we should scrap the project,” Mr Kehoe responded to Mr Healy.” This is a commitment from the Government. We will continue until tendering stage.”

“ When we get to that stage we will look at the resource envelope available to the Defence Forces. I make no apologies for equipping members of the Defence Forces with the very best equipment,” Mr Kehoe said last October.

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The European Commission has received no formal notification to date that Irish fishery protection has been affected by Naval Service crew shortages writes Lorna Siggins

Three ships are currently tied up in port, and Paul Kehoe, Minister of State with special responsibility for Defence, has directed his officials and military management to meet on Friday to “fully explore all options to address the challenges in the Naval Service”.

Sources close to the European Commission said that the Commission had received no official information from Ireland indicating that the Naval Service is having crewing difficulties.

The EU has allocated over €37 million to Ireland between 2014 and 2020 to conduct control and enforcement as part of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

Naval Service personnel and Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) officers act as EU “community inspectors” in the Irish exclusive economic zone, with the aim of having two to three ships at sea at any one time.

Asked to comment on the impact on fishery protection of crewing shortages, the SFPA said that fishery patrol inspections by the Naval Service are “risk-based” with a greater focus on “quality of inspections rather than the quantity”.

The Department of Defence is continuing to maintain that three of the Naval Service’s fleet of nine ships are tied up for maintenance or refit, and are still in “operational reserve” during this period, in spite of statements to the contrary by the Taoiseach and by the Naval Service’s Commodore Michael Malone.

Commodore Malone stated in a Defence Force newsletter in June that 540 personnel had left the service in the past five years and he had decided “to place two ships in an operational reserve capacity”due to the staff shortages.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar initially agreed with Commodore Malone’s version of events, but told the Dáil on Tuesday that Mr Kehoe’s version was also accurate.

Two decorated former Naval Service officers - former Commander Eugene Ryan and former Captain James Robinson - called on Mr Kehoe this week to resign.

The department says that the LÉ Roisín is going through a “mid-life refit”, while the LÉ Eithne and LÉ Orla are “going through planned maintenance and their crews will be redeployed”.

“That means that three ships will be held in operational reserve or in maintenance and the remaining six vessels are fully operational, “the department says.

“The Government is fully mindful of the staffing and personnel issues that are facing the Naval Service,”it said, and this was why a meeting between department officials and military management would take place on Friday to “fully explore all options to address the challenges in the Naval Service”.

“The Government’s whole focus is returning the Naval Service to its full capacity,”it said.

The department said that the Naval Service still had 88 per cent of its establishment, as in 996 staff as of May 31st this year, compared to an establishment figure of 1,094 staff.

It said that there had been 165 departures since July 2018, with 22 personnel, or 13.33% of those that left, not having completed their induction training.

The crew shortages are now placing a question mark over the tender for a “multi-role” Navy ship, costed at around 200 million euro, which is included in the Government’s white paper. The ship is intended to replace the LÉ Eithne.

Three of Haulbowline’s nine ships have been built since 2014, making it the largest ever Naval Service fleet since 1946.

On October 3rd, 2018 Independent TD Seamus Healy called on Mr Kehoe to “scrap” plans for the multi-role vessel in the light of the “current position on pay and conditions of employment in the defence forces” and because it might be used in “aggressive military operations” in the Mediterranean. T

The Government is no longer providing a Naval Service ship for Mediterranean rescue.

“I do not believe we should scrap the project,” Mr Kehoe responded to Mr Healy.” This is a commitment from the Government. We will continue until tendering stage. When we get to that stage we will look at the resource envelope available to the Defence Forces. I make no apologies for equipping members of the Defence Forces with the very best equipment.”

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In the Irish Examiner's report today the number of sailors leaving the Naval Service paints a grim picture for the future of Ireland’s maritime armed service.

More than 100 members of the service are likely to leave this year alone, amounting to 10% of the force. PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel in the service, fears the number could be much higher.

Coming on top of resignations from the Army, the exodus of highly trained and experienced men and women should be of concern, in particular, to Leo Varadkar, in his dual role of Taoiseach and minister for defence.

For more click here for a link to the story. 

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Waterford welcomes the Naval Service’s newest offshore patrol vessel LÉ George Bernard Shaw for its official naming and commissioning ceremonies today, Tuesday 30 April.

Public viewing of the ceremonies will be from the William Vincent Wallace Plaza in the city centre.

LÉ George Bernard Shaw was delivered from the Babcock Marine Appledore shipyard in Devon to Cork Harbour last October.

It is the fourth and final ship of the P60 class commissioned over recent years, after LÉ William B Yeats, LÉ James Joyce and LÉ Samuel Beckett.

Published in Navy

#navy - Patrol ship captains of the Irish Naval Service are being forced to seek ‘volunteers’ to crew their vessels due to decreasing numbers available.

The Irish Examiner has learned the Naval Service is desperately trying to crew a nine-ship fleet with numbers which cannot service seven.

A common practice is emerging where personnel, assigned to specific ships, are being asked to fill gaps on other ships which primarily conduct fishery patrols. And, despite the shortage, the Government is still pressing ahead with plans to purchase a new ultra-modern multi-role vessel (MRV) which could cost up to €200m.

Chronic shortages, however, exist in many sections of the Naval Service. According to the Defence Forces, the minimum number of personnel required to run the Naval Service is 1,044.

But the official and latest figures show a total of 974 which includes 195 personnel engaged in professional qualification (PQ) training who cannot serve at sea. They include recruits and officer cadets who are undergoing basic training, technical trainees, and Ordinary to Able Rate (OARs) trainees.

Further reading on this crew-shortage story can be seen by clicking this link.

Published in Navy

#navy - PDforra, the organisation representing enlisted personnel in the Defence Forces has said recruitment in the Naval Service has reached a new crisis point and the only way to solve it is with pay increases to retain personnel.

As BreakingNews reports, the latest figures obtained by PDforra show there were nearly 800 expressions of interest in the latest recruitment drive for the service.

However, PDforra president Mark Keane said that 50 were initially asked to attend for interviews and medical/fitness tests, but just six turned up to fill a recruit class that is supposed to be 48-strong.

He said on average nearly one-in-five inducted into recruit classes opt out before they are fully trained and more leave quickly afterwards because the pay is so poor.

For further reading on this story, click here.

Published in Navy

#MarineNotice - The Defence Forces will be conducting surface and air live firing practice shoots in Sea Area South South West (D13) between Seven Heads and Galley Head and to seaward between Tuesday 26 and Thursday 28 June from 8am to 6pm daily.

The danger area comprises the sea area contained within the co-ordinates detailed in Marine Notice No 27 of 2018, a PDF of which is available to read or download HERE.

While the range is active, this sea area is out of bounds to all vessels. A Naval Service patrol vessel will enforce the exclusion zone ‘D13’.

All vessels are required to remain outside of the exclusion zone while the range is active, and are also recommended to carefully monitor the radio navigation warnings that will be broadcast during the firing period.

Published in Marine Warning
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