Government may not replace sail training ship

 

MINISTER for Defence Willie O’Dea has indicated that the Government may postpone spending the €3.8 million insurance payment for Asgard II on a replacement sail training ship.

On the eve of the international Tall Ships race festival in Belfast – in which Asgard II had been a regular participant – Mr O’Dea’s department has also said that consideration would have to be given to abandoning the national sail training programme altogether.

The McCarthy report on public service numbers and expenditure estimated that some €0.8 million could be saved annually by this move.

This would be in addition to a one-off saving of €3.8 million in pocketing the Asgard II insurance payment.

Since the sinking of the brigantine off the northwest French coast last September, the training programme has continued on a limited basis on the Naval Service yacht, Creidne. Coiste an Asgard said it would also try to arrange berths on other international vessels.

Thousands of people signed a petition initiated by Afloat magazine to salvage the ship, and former defence minister Bobby Molloy, who backed the building of the ship in Arklow, Co Wicklow, also called for it to be raised.

However, Mr O’Dea approved a recommendation by the management board of the ship, Coiste an Asgard, not to proceed with salvage – in spite of sub-sea imagery indicating that it was standing upright on the seabed.

In a statement to The Irish Times, Mr O’Dea’s department said that it had received the €3.8 million insurance payment from Allianz.

It said the Coiste an Asgard board had initiated planning for a replacement, built from steel rather than timber, but otherwise similar in design to Asgard II.

Mr O’Dea had held discussions with Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan regarding funding arrangements for the new vessel, his department said.

“However, one of the recommendations contained in the recently published Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes [the McCarthy report] recommends that any plans to build a replacement vessel should be deferred indefinitely as this will yield a once-off saving of €3.8 million as well as ongoing savings of €0.8 million a year from the termination of the training scheme,” it said.