Crew shortage makes Naval Service take two vessels out of operation

LE Eithne and LE Orla decommissioned until staff and retention better, says commodore

LE Eithne: The crews from it and LE Orla will be transferred to other vessels and all existing leave and study obligations will be honoured. Photograph: Irish Defence Forces

LE Eithne: The crews from it and LE Orla will be transferred to other vessels and all existing leave and study obligations will be honoured. Photograph: Irish Defence Forces

 

The Naval Service must “cut its cloth” and take two ships out of commission because it has not enough crew, the head of the service, Cmdr Michael Malone has said.

The LE Eithne and the LE Orla will be tied up in port until recruitment and retention levels improve, Cmdr Malone wrote in a letter to all members of the Naval Service.

Five hundred and forty crew have left in the last five years, placing an “extraordinary burden” on those remaining – leaving the service able to crew 6½ of the navy’s nine ships.

“I have now taken the decision that the Naval Service has to cut our cloth to measure,” he said, “We will take an operational pause to allow us to consolidate and regenerate.”

The crews from the Eithne and Orla will be transferred to other vessels and all existing leave and study obligations will be honoured, he said.

Experienced personnel

The service’s patrol plans for this year remains unaltered and it will focus on efforts to recruit and train enough experienced personnel to bring the Eithne and Orla back into operations as soon as possible.

Acknowledging the crewing challenges, the Department of Defence said military chiefs continue to examine all options to maximise effectiveness.

The Naval Service will transfer crews “to robustly man its assets”, it said, adding that the Eithne and Orla will remain as full commissioned military units.

A spokesman for Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association(PDFORRA), the representative body for defence forces personnel, said it has warned for years that low pay for sailors is leading to huge losses of qualified crew.

On Thursday, PDFORRA general secretary Gerard Guinan told an Oireachtas committee that it is “not an overstatement” to say that highly qualified outstanding soldiers have been lost.

‘Sense of betrayal’

’“These personnel left with a deep sense of betrayal and disenfranchisement that will never be assuaged. They were forced from a career that they loved and that owed them much more than they ever received. But they might have stayed if only some earlier intervention had occurred,” he declared.

Staff shortages are causing “extreme stress and anxiety” , while poor pay has impacted on morale, which “ultimately reflects on operational effectiveness”, he said.

A report by the public service commission into Defence Forces pay and conditions is due shortly, though it is unlikely to meet the pay demands.

Earlier this month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar refused to accelerate the restoration of pay cuts made during the austerity crisis in an effort to curb the losses of soldiers, sailors and aircrew.

“We cannot provide a fast track to pay restoration and additional allowances to one group of public servants without accepting that it will have a knock-on effect across the board,” he said then.

The 2019 Defence Forces recruitment campaign is expected to see 800 new entrants across the Army, Naval Service and the Air Corps. Nearly 1,000 people applied for places in the Naval Service.