Naval Service may begin searching overseas for skilled sailors

Defence Forces examining possibility of hiring ‘marine specialist talent acquisition agency’ to address manpower crisis

The Defence Forces is considering attempting to recruit sailors from overseas to address the Naval Service’s manpower crisis.

Officials are examining the possibility of hiring a “marine specialist talent acquisition agency” to conduct a global search for expert mariners to replace the large numbers of personnel that have departed the Naval Service in recent years.

The strength of the Naval Service, which marked its 75th anniversary last year, has now fallen below 800, almost 300 below its establishment strength of 1,094 personnel.

The Naval Service has been hit hardest by the staffing crisis affecting the Defence Forces, leaving it unable to put all its ships to sea.


Highly trained marine technicians, including electricians and engineers, are in high demand in the private sector, where the pay and conditions are typically more attractive.

A Defence Forces spokeswoman says it recognises “that marine specialists, by the nature of their work, are located globally”. In addition to a national recruitment campaign which is in progress, it is considering hiring an international agency “with a view to enhancing and supporting our existing direct entry recruitment”, she said.

Overseas recruits would be enlisted or commissioned into the Naval Service after completing military training. However, it is expected they would already have significant skills from their previous career.

Last year a third of Ireland’s nine Naval ships were decommissioned. They are to be replaced this year with two smaller vessels from New Zealand costing €26 million.

However, the continuing exodus of personnel has raised fears there may not be enough crew members left to man even these smaller ships.

A process is also ongoing to purchase a much larger “multi-role vessel” in the coming years.

In October, Naval officials announced a plan to spend €1.2 million on external contractors to keep its ships at sea. The plan is to replace departing members with contractors from private companies.

These will work alongside sailors in the electrical and 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.

Last summer an entire class of Naval Service apprentices left the organisation at the same time after a private company bought out their contracts.

Navies across the world are facing similar staffing crises. A third of New Zealand’s fleet is tied up due to a lack of sailors.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times