Irish Navy decommissions a third of its fleet

The Le Eithne, Le Orla and Le Ciara were decommissioned on Friday with a combined service of over 100 years

The Irish Navy has decommissioned a third of its fleet in one morning, with a possibility that one ship may be converted into a floating naval museum.

Three of the Navy’s nine ships – the Le Eithne, Le Orla and Le Ciara – were decommissioned on Friday with a combined service of over 100 years. Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said two replacement ships would arrive next year.

He said the Government has already purchased two inshore patrol vessels from New Zealand to replace the Le Orla and Le Ciara. while the Department of Defence was continuing to work on procuring a multi-role vessel (MRV) to replace the flagship Le Eithne.

Speaking at the decommissioning ceremony at Naval Service HQ at Haulbowline in Cork Harbour, Mr Coveney paid tribute to all who served on the three ships. The fact the three ships had a combined service record of 104 years was “a testament to the durability and robustness of our fleet of vessels, and the dedication of Naval Service personnel”.

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Mr Coveney said the disposal of the three ships was still being examined by Department of Defence officials to determine the most efficient and effective way of disposing of the ships. He said among the options under consideration were safe and environmentally-sound scrappage and recycling, sale to a private or government buyer, transfer of the ships to another government or donating the ships to be used as a possible visitor attraction or museum.

In May, Cork County Council wrote to Mr Coveney and the secretary general of the Department of Defence proposing that the oldest and the largest of three ships, the 80m Naval Service flagship Le Eithne, be retained in Cork Harbour as a visitor centre or a museum.

Councillors argued because the LE Eithne was the last Naval Service ship to be built in Ireland at Verolme Cork Dockyard in 1984, the first Naval Service ship to cross the Atlantic in 1986, and the first Naval Service ship to visit South America in 2006 this merited its preservation as visitor attraction.

Speaking in the Dáil last week Mr Coveney mentioned the possibility of the LE Eithne, the only ship in the Irish Naval Service with a helicopter landing pad, being retained and converted into a museum that would chronicle the history of the Naval Service.

The LE Orla and the LE Ciara – both 62.6m long with a top speed of 25 knots – were commissioned in 1989 having been purchased a year earlier from the British royal navy with whom they saw service as patrol vessels HMS Swift and HMS Swallow in the waters off Hong Kong.

Mr Coveney recalled the service of the three ships including how the LE Eithne was the first Irish ship to be deployed on Operation Pontus in 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea where she helped save the lives of thousands of refugees before being deployed to Cork city in 2020 to assist the HSE during Covid-19.

He recalled how the LE Orla was involved in the interdiction of drug smugglers on board the Brime in 1993 when €20 million worth of cannabis was seized, and how the LE Ciara was involved in the capture of the MV Posidonia with €14 million worth of cannabis in 1999.