Naval Service denies crew were endangered during rescue mission

System for launching small craft found to be in bad repair

The LÉ Samuel Beckett passes Cobh on the way back to  Haulbowline after operations  in  the Mediterranean. Photograph:  Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The LÉ Samuel Beckett passes Cobh on the way back to Haulbowline after operations in the Mediterranean. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

The Naval Service has denied its personnel were endangered by the poor state of equipment on board the LÉ Samuel Beckett during its operations in the Mediterranean last year.

The Navy requested an inspection of the Beckett when, following the ship’s return from the migrant rescue mission, it noticed problems with its davits, a system used for launching smaller craft into the water.

The davits were used extensively to lower rigid inflatable boats into the water to rescue migrants during the Beckett’s three-month deployment.

The inspection was carried out by the davits’ manufacturer, Caley Ocean Systems, shortly after the ship returned to Ireland. The company submitted a report in August 2018 showing the system was in an extremely poor state of repair.

The report found the davits were “in a far worse state of repair than initially expected” and said it was unusual to find such high levels of corrosion in such a new piece of machinery “when the surrounding areas of the ship are not in the same material state”.

The Beckett, an offshore patrol vessel which was commissioned in 2014, is one of the most modern vessels in the fleet.

Caley stated the davits system showed “little or no sign of maintenance” being carried out.

The report identified 18 areas of concern including heavy corrosion, unusable components and missing parts. Photographs accompanying the report show rusted machinery and frayed cables.

The manufacturer said that, such was the state of disrepair, the davits would have to be removed from the vessel for an extensive programme of refurbishment.

Reports in davits on other vessels also identified several areas of concern but none as serious as those found on the Beckett.

Retention crisis

The reports were released to MEP Clare Daly who sought them after being informed the Defence Forces retention and recruitment crisis was having an adverse effect on the ability of crews to maintain vessels.

“It’s clear that the failure to deal with the staffing crisis in the Defence Forces hasn’t only had consequence for Defence Forces members and their families, it’s also having serious and incredibly worrying impacts on safety in the service,” Ms Daly said.

Military sources say the crisis is affecting the servicing of vessels. However the Defence Forces say the crisis was not a factor in the condition of the Beckett’s davits. A spokesman pointed out that the ship had more than its standard complement of crew while on duty in the Mediterranean.

The military also denied crew members were put at risk during the mission. In response to Caley’s findings that little or no maintenance had been carried out, a spokesman replied: “This statement is incorrect; planned maintenance is routinely carried out on the davits.”

He added the problems have since been addressed.

The staffing crisis has affected all aspects of the Defence Forces but especially areas requiring special technical and engineering skills.

Earlier this month, The Irish Times reported the Naval Service is operating with about one-third of the required number of personnel needed to maintain its large weapons safely.

New figures show a further 70 people left the Defence Forces in July, immediately after the Government announced a new pay package aimed at retaining experienced members.

The figure, which includes six officers and 16 trainees, reflects widespread anger among members with the terms of the pay deal. So far in 2019, 477 members have left.