Naval Service turns to private sector to keep ships at sea as personnel shortages worsen

About €1.2 million will be spent on private contractors to maintain and repair vessels

The Naval Service is to spend €1.2 million on external contractors to keep its ships at sea due to a drastic shortage of personnel.

Electrical artificers, which are responsible for maintaining and repairing ships’ electrical systems, have been departing the Naval Service in large numbers in recent years due to high demand in the private sector.

This includes an entire class of trainees who recently left for the private sector in one go.

The service is now seeking to replace these workers with contractors from private companies. These will work alongside sailors in the electrical electronic section under the direction of its commanding officer. The intent is to augment the section “and not replace” it, the Naval Service said in procurement documents.


The private contractors will carry out planned and unplanned maintenance but will not be expected to go to sea.

“Due to a short-term lack in skilled electrical artificers (electronic technicians/electricians) the Naval Service require a contracted service assistance to provide technical support to the existing staff within the EES,” it said.

Covid-19 outbreaks, a lack of personnel and maintenance issues have been responsible for many instances of Naval Service vessels being unable to go on patrol in recent years. Nearly 250 patrols days were cancelled last year alone. The problem has abated somewhat this year, in part due to the easing of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Naval Service said a minimum of three civilian contractors will be required for a 12-month stint, with the possibility of this being extended for two additional years. It said it estimates this will cost about €1.2 million plus VAT.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said last week if outsourcing is required to keep ships at sea, “so be it”. Separately, he indicated outsourcing will be required to screen and evaluate the large numbers of people seeking to join the Reserve Defence Forces due to a lack of capacity in the Permanent Defence Forces.

The Naval Service and Air Corps have been asked to increase patrols of the areas around Ireland’s critical maritime infrastructure since the suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea last month.

This has put additional pressure on resources as there are currently only four ships and one maritime patrol aircraft available for use. There are 821 people in the Naval Service or 75 per cent of its establishment strength.

Technical areas are particularly impacted by the shortages due to private sector demand for skilled personnel.

Overall figures for the Defence Forces show a large number of inductees are leaving before completing their training. In the first eight months of 2022, 28 per cent of new recruits, or 80 out of 283, left before finishing their training.

Ireland is not the only country facing recruitment and retention issues. Many western militaries are dealing with similar problems due to the generally buoyant private employment market.

“It is very normal for militaries to go out to an outside contractor for shore support. This is not replacing jobs at sea, quite the opposite. It’s about providing the shore support so Naval personnel can be available to go to sea,” said a Defence Forces spokesperson.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times