#NavalExercises – The Naval Service's newest and oldest patrol vessels have taken part in a week-long major exercise, one of several held annually, where L.É Samuel Beckett (P61) set her paces accompanied by L.E. Aoife offshore of Cork Harbour, writes Jehan Ashmore.
In command of the €54m newbuild is Cdr. Ken Minihan who recently was promoted to the role of Officer in Charge of Fleet Operations, in which he will take this position in August. Cdr. Minihan has the responsibility of 43 crew and on occasions this can rise by a further 10 personnel.
Due to the overall requirements to recruit crew and that of the newbuild programme of a trio of OPV90 or 'Beckett' class, the new ships will feature additional berths to accommodate 10 cadet trainees.
According to Cdr. Minihan, the OPV has better sea-keeping characteristics compared to her predecessors and the ability to maintain 9 knots in a 'Power Take In' mode as 2 x Wartsila diesel engines can generate otherwise a maximum of 23 knots.
The OPV90 class are fitted with a 76mm OTO Melara the main armoury mounted on the bow of the newbuilds which are to replace an ageing pair of 'Emer' class sisters. L.E. Aoife is understood to decomission by the end of the year. She will be replaced by the delivery of L.E. James James in the first quater of 2015 and followed by the final newbuild due in 2016.
One of the trainees taking ship-time experience on board L.E. Samual Beckett is Ger Fannin from Clare who at 29 years is one of the oldest students to have entered the cadetship. Along with his colleagues they will attend a commissioning into service ceremony in September.
This was only the second time that Fannin has been at sea where the cadet expressed how proud he was to be on the new 2,226 tonnes offshore patrol vessel, which is ending her first patrol today since commissioning just over a month ago in Dublin.
In the last six years the Naval Service has intercepted €1.7 Billion worth of drugs in Irish waters and the importance of carrying out such exercises (in a real-scenario they are carried out at night), is where the boarding teams are also equipped with night-vision capabilities.
This is where the role of Maritime Interdiction Operations as previously reported saw armed counter-narcotics Naval Teams set off from L.E. Samuel Beckett. The interdiction teams used a pair of high-speed RIBS capable of twice the speed of the 'mother' vessel, as they can reach up to 40 knots. The teams set a course to the L.E. Aoife which acted as the 'suspect' vessel.
Interdiction party on the aft–deck
Completely dressed in black uniforms including helmets, the teams armed with pistols and truncheons boarded the L.E. Aoife. Two of her crew-members acted as individuals engaged in criminal activity and where led under tight security up to the wheelhouse.
In addition to this high-drama scenario at sea, a casualty winching exercise with an Air Corps AW139 helicopter was carried out at close quarters above the aft-deck of L.E. Samuel Beckett. The helicopter normally based at Baldonnel had flown down to Cork Airport and onward to take part in the exercise.
Also part of the week's exercise where inter-ship replenishments for the transfer of personnel and provisions while naval ships are at sea. This alleviates the necessity for a ship to return to port while on domestic operations and potentially in circumstances where vessels could be deployed on missions overseas.
As outlined above the role of the Naval Service is clearly not just about fishery protection duties, in which there has been 407 boardings and four detentions carried out so far this year.
With the L.E. Samuel Beckett in service, the navy and that of her newbuild sisters are better prepared through new operational capability to undertake routine patrols and tasks in an area twelve times the size of Ireland's land mass.
An added efficiency to operations will be Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) which are planned to be introduced next year. This component in the Naval Service is to enhance in carrying out surveillance operations, among them covert vessel tracking to those dealing with oil-pollution monitoring.
A large area of EU waters (15%) is under Irish sovereign control and are patrolled by the Naval Service current fleet of 8 vessels. Our waters provide an estimated €3.4 billion in resources to the Irish exchequer annually or approximately equate to 1.2% of GDP.