A Maltese naval crew will arrive in Haulbowline in the next few weeks to be trained to operate the LÉ Aoife, which was gifted to Malta amid some controversy.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney said the Maltese government still wanted the 36-year-old vessel, despite some comments by retired navy personnel on that Mediterranean island she was too old and not fit for the purpose she was intended for — to rescue migrants fleeing north Africa.
Mr Coveney said that he expected the Maltese crew to be trained up over a three to four-week period and ready to return with the ship by mid-May.
He said that some Irish naval personnel were likely to sail with the ship to Malta and he was even considering going over for its arrival. “We also have spares [parts] for the ship and we will give them to them,” he said.
He said his Maltese counterpart, Carmelo Abela, had immediately contacted him after adverse comments were made on that country’s media about the LÉ Aoife.
“He was very embarrassed about that and said he was delighted to take her. It’s a positive story from their perspective. They’re planning to buy a new ship but won’t receive it for around five years, so they need the LÉ Aoife to fill in. It’s not at the end of its life and is very well maintained.”
He said he could understand why some Irish groups might have liked the opportunity to acquire the vessel, but felt it could play a role in humanitarian work.
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