Naval Service to acquire four new boats over coming years

Vessels will be used by Naval Reserve to provide port and maritime security

The Naval Service is to acquire four small vessels to be used for maritime security. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

The Naval Service is to acquire four small vessels to be used for maritime security. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

The Naval Service is to acquire four small vessels to be used for maritime security.

The armed motor launches will be used primarily by the Naval Reserve for operations close to the shore and for port security.

The reserve has been without any vessels, aside from Rigid Inflatable-Hull Boats (Ribs), since 2018 when the last motor launch was decommissioned on age grounds. The primary purpose of the vessels was to provide an armed Naval presence in the strategic ports of Dublin, Cork, Foynes and Waterford.

The reserve itself is significantly undermanned. A 2015 White Paper on Defence recommended an establishment strength of 300, but it currently has less than half that number of members.

The new vessels will be significantly more advanced that the boats previously in use by the reserve. They will also be suitable for use as a dive platform for Naval Service divers.

According to tender documents published last week, the four new boats will cost in the region of €2.6 million. They are to be used for “maritime security operations, port security operations, limited diving support” and “limited underwater surveys”.

The 30 tonne vessels will be between 12m and 15m in length and capable of patrolling up to 40 nautical miles off-shore.

Sensors

Tender documents state the vessels should come with fittings to install a “suitable sub surface search capability.” However, the Defence Forces said they will not be used for anti-submarine sensors.

“The fitting for sub-surface search capability is to support the Naval Service Diving Section in complex search and recovery operations. These launches are not designed for anti-submarine operations,” a spokesman said.

There has been increasing concern in defence circles recently about Russian submarines operating in Irish coastal waters and potentially posing a danger to undersea cables. The Naval Service currently has no ability to track such incursions.

The motor launches will have a crew of four and will be capable of carrying another 12 passengers. They will be able to remain at sea for up to 48 hours at a time, 12 months of the year.

They will also be armed with two machine guns, the tendering documents state. One boat is to be delivered every year over the next four years.

A Defence Forces spokesman said the boats would also be used for seamanship and navigation training and in-shore support to other governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Limited benefit

He said the previous launches operated by the reserve “were of limited benefit compared to the proposals sought for their replacements, taking into account advances in technologies and roles assigned to the Naval Service Reserve units”.

The Naval Service as a whole continues to face recruitment challenges. There are currently less than 900 full-time personnel remaining in the organisation and two major ships remain tied up due to the manpower shortage.

However, the Government is proceeding with a €200 million programme to purchase a large multi-role vessel in the coming years and plans are under consideration for the purchase of two smaller coastal patrol vessels.