Crew shortage prevents Naval Service vessels setting sail

Emergency meeting of top officers convened as reservists drafted to fill gaps on third ship

Members of the Naval Service Reserve were drafted recently to supplement crew shortages on the LÉ Eithne, the navy’s flagship. Photograph: AP

Members of the Naval Service Reserve were drafted recently to supplement crew shortages on the LÉ Eithne, the navy’s flagship. Photograph: AP

 

Two Naval Service vessels were unable to set sail last week because of a crew shortage while reservists have been brought in to plug gaps on a third ship, it has emerged.

Emergency talks were held last Friday in Haulbowline between Chief of Staff, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, Assistant Chief of Staff Brig Gen Peter O’Halloran and the Flag Officer Commanding, Cmdr Mick Malone.

Meanwhile, the issue of shortages in the Naval Service, the Air Corps and the Army is expected to feature highly in the annual PDForra conference of non-commissioned officers.

The LÉ Orla, a coastal patrol vessel, and the LÉ Niamh, a large offshore patrol vessel, were unable to leave their Haulbowline base, it is understood.

Members of the Naval Service Reserve were drafted in recently to supplement crew shortages on a third ship, the LÉ Eithne, a helicopter patrol vessel that is the navy’s flagship.

What is the problem?

Shortages are such that Naval Service personnel are being asked to return to sea early, sacrificing part of their pre-planned shore leave. This has prompted a level of dissent from some of those asked.

“The Naval Service has been running eight ships with personnel for seven and is about to take delivery of a ninth ship,” said a source. “There is a serious human resources problem. [Senior officers] are sticking their fingers in the holes as they appear.”

Within the Air Corps, there is a 30 per cent shortfall in pilots and technicians which means the service is operating at less than 70 per cent capacity

Retired Brig Gen Ger Aherne said the relationship between the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence is now “toxic, broken, dysfunctional and dangerous”.

Key to the current problems, said the senior ex-officer, who has been critical of military pay levels , is the “long term political and institutional neglect and indifference towards the Defence Forces”.

Lieut Col Earnán Naughton, general secretary of Raco, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, said the Defence Forces’ “governance and command structure is breaking down”.

“Within the Air Corps, there is a 30 per cent shortfall in pilots and technicians which means the service is operating at less than 70 per cent capacity,” he said. “Army officer corps strength is about 40 per cent down.

Strained relationship

Senator Gerard Craughwell said Naval Service petty officers and senior non-commissioned officers have been asked to take up lower-ranked duties to make up crew numbers so ships can get to sea.

Staffing difficulties are linked to the problem of retaining Defence Force personnel. But strained relations between senior officers and the department run deeper than just this issue.

An example cited is how the department treated a joint submission to the Public Service Pay Commission which is looking at pay rates, particularly rank-and-file earnings and restoration of pay cuts.

The Defence Forces were asked to tell the department what they wanted, which senior officers did in writing but then heard nothing back until after the submission was forwarded directly to the commission.

Last night, the Defence Forces press office said Vice-Admiral Mellett “received briefings regarding naval operations and the challenges associated with the delivery of Maritime Security and Defence services” in Haulbowline.

The departmentsaid naval reservists had been given training recently. The service has 92 per cent of its numbers, it added.

Recruitment is continuing and staff will get pay rises worth between 6.2 per cent to 7.4 per cent. In addition, they will enjoy the restoration of the 5 per cent allowances cut under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013.