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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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Two of the State’s nine Naval Service fishery patrol vessels will remain tied up indefinitely, in spite of the 10.1 million euro annual package of military salary and allowance increases approved by Government yesterday writes Lorna Siggins.

The Government package which aims to address crew shortages, caused by military staff leaving for better paid jobs elsewhere, is due to be considered by defence force unions over the coming weeks.

However, a Defence Forces spokesman said that the two ships would remain docked, to ensure that there is sufficient cover to keep seven ships at sea on rotation.

Two ships, the LÉ Eithne helicopter patrol vessel which has been in service since 1984, and the LÉ Orla coastal patrol vessel in service since 1988, have been tied up.

In a statement, the Defence Forces press office said that the Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service is “currently managing the consolidation of Naval Service assets”.

“This is due to ongoing personnel challenges”, it said and the defence forces’ commitment to “valuing our personnel, their welfare and safety”.

“Military authorities continue to examine all recommendations and options with the aim of maximising the effectiveness of the maritime defence and security operations carried out by the Naval Service,”it said.

“The Naval Service intends to consolidate its resources and redistribute its personnel to robustly man its assets. All ships will remain as fully commissioned military units with all of the associated administration and management in place,”the statement said.

Defence force unions had warned of the impact of pay and conditions, with Naval Service personnel forced to sleep on ships during time off due to a combination of low wages, high rents and lack of proper accommodation at the Naval Service headquarters in Cork harbour,

An Oireachtas committee was told last week that the Naval Service was in a “dire state”, with personnel “probably at its lowest level ever”.

The Naval Service fleet has grown from seven to nine ships in the past decade, and works with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority on offshore fishery protection.

Its assets are expected to come under increasing pressure if there is a “no deal” Brexit, and EU vessels with quotas in British waters move into Irish waters.

The LÉ Orla and LÉ Ciara were both purchased from Britain, which had used them as coastal patrol vessels off Hong Kong. The LÉ Ciara will remain in service, along with the fleet’s six other ships,four of which were commissioned in the last five years.

The service’s most recently commissioned ship, the LÉ George Bernard Shaw, is the fourth in a P60 class of ships built by Babcock Marine Appledore shipyard in Devon.

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The operations of the Naval Service at its Headquarters on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour are to be reviewed, reports Tom MacSweeney.

This follows on the approval by Bord Pleanala of planning permission for the controversial hazardous waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy in the harbour area, which is adjacent to the Naval Base.

The Department of Defence had warned at the planning inquiry that the incinerator would have unacceptable effects on the Navy operations which would have national strategic implications.

The Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe, replying to queries put to him, said that “the Defence Forces will review the An Bord Pleanála decision and its possible impact on Defence Force operations at Haulbowline ….”

Political and public reaction in Cork has expressed astonishment that the impact of a commercial company should be allowed to have any effect on the Naval Service.

The Minister said that “It would be inappropriate to make any comment until the review is complete..”

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Hello and you’re welcome to the weekly MacSweeney Podcast

The procedures and practices involved in the naming of ships once appeared to be the product of evolution and tradition, then became the choice of politicians – at least as far as the Irish Naval Service is concerned - and of on-line polling where the ferry company, Irish Ferries, is involved.

So, there will be two vessels called after the poet William Butler Yeats……

The Naval Service’s L.E. William Butler Years - P63 - is the third of the recent additions to its fleet. Classed for offshore patrol, she cost €71m  and was commissioned a year ago in Galway and named by a granddaughter of the poet.

Irish Ferries has decided to name its new €144m ferry, costing double the price of the Naval vessel and now being built in Germany, also after the poet who was born in Sandymount in Dublin and died in France…. The company says the name will be “important in overseas markets drawing a high degree of recognition” and that it chose ‘WB Yeats’ after an online competition which attracted 100,000 entries.

Managing Director Andrew Sheen said the name “continues the tradition adopted by the company of selecting names from the world of Irish literature.” The name, he said, will “sit comfortably alongside those other great literary figures whose names adorn other vessels in the Irish Ferries fleet” but some of which are registered outside of Ireland – in Cyprus and the Bahamas.

The Government decision, which was opposed by Naval officers past and present and by sections of public opinion, ended the tradition of naming Irish Navy patrol vessels after mythical female figures. It was controversial when the Cabinet ignored Naval opinion. The Department of Defence said the naming of ships after “world renowned literary figures” would “facilitate greater recognition for the Naval Service in the international maritime domain”.

On that score Irish Ferries’management seems to agree….

It is not uncommon in the shipping world for vessels to have similar names, but is generally avoided to prevent confusion. Two ships operating in Irish waters - named after the same Irish poet does invite questions – why – and will the duplication of names cause confusion?

So far, there’s been no comment from the Navy or the Department of Defence on the duplication…

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In recognition of its international humanitarian service on behalf of the people of Ireland and the European Union, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has decided to award the Irish Naval Service the civic honour of "Freedom of Entry" to the county.

The award will be conferred on the officers and crew of the LÉ Eithne at a special ceremony at 1pm on Friday 31st March at Harbour Plaza, Dún Laoghaire.

LÉ Eithne likewise of the seven-strong fleet has an adopted homeport, in the case of the Helicopter Patrol Vessel this is Dun Laoghaire Harbour. The HPV will be berthed during the ceremony at St. Micheals Wharf which is located just beyond the Harbour Plaza. From here there are views of the East Pier and in the distance Howth Peninsula. 

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The fourth Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) for the Irish Naval Service will bear the name of renowned Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. The announcement was made during a traditional Keel Laying Ceremony, to mark a significant milestone being reached in the build process for the fourth new OPV, in Babcock’s Shipbuilding Yard in Devon, UK.

The Keel Laying ceremony was attended by the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Mr. Paul Kehoe TD, senior representatives from Babcock, the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence, as well as Naval Service members involved in the build project.

The new ship will be the same class as LÉ Samuel Beckett, LÉ James Joyce and LÉ William Butler Yeats and the name George Bernard Shaw maintains the approach of naming this class of vessel after Irish literary greats.

Speaking at the ceremony Minister said “Whether it is carrying out defence and security operations, on sea fisheries patrols, search and rescue operations or on overseas missions such as the humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean, the efforts of the Naval Service are enhanced by having access to new vessels equipped with the latest available capabilities.

Reflecting on the relationship between the Defence organisation and Babcock which has already seen a number of the current in-service Irish Naval Service vessels built in the Appledore facility Minister Kehoe said

“The Government’s current ship replacement programme has delivered three Naval Service vessels, representing a significant investment by the Government in the provision of defence capability for the State. The ship that is being built at present will be the fourth in this class providing huge commonality benefits to the Naval Service and allowing for greater operational capacity.”

Minister Kehoe concluded by complimenting employees at Babcock “for their ability to produce well designed and stylish ships with state of the art equipment which have already proven their value to the Irish Naval Service both at home and on overseas missions.”

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The Shannon based Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 115 has evacuated a seriously injured crewman from a large Russian fishing vessel approximately 140 nautical miles West of Kerry Head.

The operation is being coordinated by the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre in Valentia and is being supported by the Naval ship LÉ Róisín. Crew members from the LÉ Róisín went on board the vessel and assisted with casualty evacuation. Communication support and back up, known as Top Cover was provided by a second Coast Guard helicopter, the Waterford based R117.

Weather conditions in the area for helicopter operations were difficult, bordering on marginal for such operations with a strong West South West swell and winds gusting in excess of 35mph.

The helicopter is currently routing to University Hospital Limerick, to arrive before 7:30pm, following an essential fuel stopover at Kerry airport.

This is the second operation in recent weeks where the LÉ Róisín assisted the Coast Guard in an operation at sea. Coast Guard helicopters are capable of operating out to 200 miles and operations of this nature are indicative of the professionalism of the Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue crews. The Coast Guard complimented the crew of the LÉ Róisín for their efficiency in operating a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) in difficult conditions and for getting crewmembers onto the fishing vessel.

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#NavalReview - The Defence Forces in the year of 2016 have been tasked by the Government to play a central role in the 1916 Centenary Commemorative programme.

Notwithstanding the ceremonial activities performed during 2016, Óglaigh na hÉireann maintained operations, contributing to security both at home and internationally in 15 countries and one sea tasked to the Irish Naval Service.

Below is a sample of the breadth of activities undertaken by the Defence Forces (Review) in 2016 in which the Naval Service forms on of three branches the others been the Army and Air Corps.

Afloat has concentrated on highlighting the role of the Naval Service. No fewer than three OPV continued to play a pivotal role last year in overseas missions in search and rescue (SAR) of refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea off Libya. 

*Statistics quoted are provisional to date and are subject to finalisation in the 2016 Annual Report which will be published in early 2017.

International Operations

The Defence Forces have the longest unbroken record of overseas service of any country in the world since first deploying to a United Nations mission in 1958. Some details of the Defence Forces contribution to international peace and security, on behalf of Ireland, are below:

In 2016 over 1400 Defence Forces personnel served in overseas Peace Support and Security operations in 15 countries and one sea. Currently over 600 Defence Forces personnel are serving in 15 countries.

The Defence Forces deployed three Naval ships (Afloat add they were L.E. Samuel Becket, L.E. James Joyce and L.E. Roisin) and over 150 Naval Service and Army personnel to the Mediterranean this year. This was in response to the humanitarian crisis supporting the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre with Search and Rescue assistance.

The total number of migrants rescued in 2016 by the men and women of Óglaigh na nÉireann was 7,029 and over 15,500 since operations began in 2015.

Domestic Operations

The Naval Service has completed over 1,200 boardings and made 3 detentions so far in 2016 for alleged infringements of fishing regulations, the Air corps conducted over 300 Maritime Surveillance Patrol flights.

The Naval Service & Air Corps patrol 220 million maritime acres of sea (over twelve times the land mass of Ireland) representing 15% of Europe’s fisheries.

Naval Service Dive Team were deployed 10 times in 2016 including seven separate Search and Recovery operations following requests from the Coast Guard and An Garda Síochána.

To also read more about the roles of the Army and Air Corps activities in the review click here.

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#BeckettHome - In time for Christmas with an arrival home writes The Irish Examiner. Hugs, kisses, and a few tears of joy shed as the crew of the LÉ Samuel Beckett disembarked to be greeted by loved ones yesterday after 85 days on migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, many of the sailors will forever remember the horrors they witnessed off the coast of Libya, as merciless people-smugglers knowingly send migrants to a certain death if they’re not rescued.

Ship’s captain Lieutenant Commander Darragh Kirwan said he had no doubt the migrants crammed into inflatable rubber dinghies would never have made it to Italy.

On their first day of operations, six migrants drowned as the ship went to the rescue of a group packed into a dinghy.

“Around 25% of all inflatables we came across had punctured chambers. There isn’t enough food on board them and they are only given enough petrol for 50 miles. They [people smugglers] know they are sending people to their deaths,” the senior officer said.

To add to their woes, “jackals”, as the navy term them, often prey on the migrants at sea, stealing their outboard motors and personal valuables.

For much more on the Haulbowline homecoming click here 

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Coastal Notes Coastal Notes covers a broad spectrum of stories, events and developments in which some can be quirky and local in nature, while other stories are of national importance and are on-going, but whatever they are about, they need to be told.

Stories can be diverse and they can be influential, albeit some are more subtle than others in nature, while other events can be immediately felt. No more so felt, is firstly to those living along the coastal rim and rural isolated communities. Here the impact poses is increased to those directly linked with the sea, where daily lives are made from earning an income ashore and within coastal waters.

The topics in Coastal Notes can also be about the rare finding of sea-life creatures, a historic shipwreck lost to the passage of time and which has yet many a secret to tell. A trawler's net caught hauling more than fish but cannon balls dating to the Napoleonic era.

Also focusing the attention of Coastal Notes, are the maritime museums which are of national importance to maintaining access and knowledge of historical exhibits for future generations.

Equally to keep an eye on the present day, with activities of existing and planned projects in the pipeline from the wind and wave renewables sector and those of the energy exploration industry.

In addition Coastal Notes has many more angles to cover, be it the weekend boat leisure user taking a sedate cruise off a long straight beach on the coast beach and making a friend with a feathered companion along the way.

In complete contrast is to those who harvest the sea, using small boats based in harbours where infrastructure and safety poses an issue, before they set off to ply their trade at the foot of our highest sea cliffs along the rugged wild western seaboard.

It's all there, as Coastal Notes tells the stories that are arguably as varied to the environment from which they came from and indeed which shape people's interaction with the surrounding environment that is the natural world and our relationship with the sea.

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