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Former flagship of Ireland’s Naval Service to be sent abroad and taken apart for scrap

Plans to convert LÉ Eithne, the first Irish Navy ship to cross Atlantic, into a museum came to nothing

The former flagship of the Naval Service is, along with two other vessels, to be sent abroad and taken apart for scrap after plans to convert it into a museum came to nothing.

LÉ Eithne, which was the Naval Service’s largest vessel and the last to be constructed in Ireland, was decommissioned last year at the same time as the smaller LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla. The vessels were decommissioned partly due to their age and partly due to the manpower crisis impacting the service which has left it without enough sailors to crew all its ships. Two other vessels have since been tied up, leaving just two ships available for duty at any one time, with one more in reserve.

There has been much speculation about the fate of the ships. Cork County Council had expressed an interest in acquiring the Eithne and converting it into a floating maritime museum in Cork Harbour. Dublin Port later approached the Department of Defence about using the ship for a similar purpose in the capital.

It is understood that the Philippine naval service expressed a tentative interest in at least one of the ships, but these inquiries went nowhere.

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A Department of Defence spokeswoman said “a number of organisations” had expressed interest in acquiring the Eithne as a museum piece or tourist attraction “but following, in some cases lengthy, discussions all these parties withdrew their interest in taking the ship”.

She said Minister for Defence Micheál Martin has decided the three ships “should be disposed of by recycling in an environmentally-sound manner”. A competitive tendering process is now under way for a ship-breakers yard to remove the vessels from Cork Harbour and recycle them “in line with the EU Ship Recycling Regulation and relevant national regulations”.

The ships recently underwent an inspection by interested shipyards and the department hopes to offload all three in the coming weeks, it said. The department has made around €130,000 available for the project.

The three ships have a combined service of more than a century. The Eithne was built in 1984 at the Verolme Dockyard in Cork Harbour, which went out of business shortly afterwards. In 1986 it became the first Irish Naval ship to cross the Atlantic. In 2006 it was the first Naval Service ship to visit South America. It was the first Irish ship to be deployed on Operation Pontus in 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea, where it helped save the lives of thousands of refugees before being deployed to Cork city in 2020 to assist the HSE during Covid-19.

The LÉ Orla and Ciara 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.

Two smaller inshore patrol vessels have been acquired from New Zealand to patrol the Irish Sea and are due to go into service next year, although there are concerns there will not be enough sailors to crew them.

The Government is also in the process of commissioning a much larger multi-role vessel to replace the Eithne as the Naval Service’s flagship in the coming years.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times