The State spent €380,000 in 11 months maintaining the decommissioned LÉ Aisling, it has emerged.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed the figure yesterday in the wake of controversy over the vessel’s offer for sale for €650,000 in the Netherlands over the weekend, some eight weeks after she was auctioned off by the State for just €110,000.
Mr Kenny told the Dáil that the cost of assigning a skeleton crew to maintain the vessel at the Irish Naval Service headquarters in Haulbowline in Co Cork, from her decommissioning in June 2015 until she was brought by tug to the Netherlands last April by the man who bought her at auction in March, amounted to €370,000.
He said the State spent a further €10,000 on tug hire costs during that period. He also said the storage of vessel was putting pressure on berthage space at the naval base, and that while the skeleton crew was posted to maintain the ship before the auction they could not be deployed to other duties.
Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers raised the issue with the Taoiseach and said it is vital that the State should realise full value for such state assets.
She described the new sale price as a “remarkable mark-up” and said: “The public is wondering why the taxpayer didn’t get a better price, why was no reserve price set and why was no independent valuation conducted.”
But Mr Kenny defended the auction process, handled by auctioneer, Dominic Daly, which he said followed the same process as previous auctions of decommissioned Naval Service vessels, also handled by Mr Daly, including the LÉ Emer, which sold in 2013 to a Nigerian-registered company for €320,000 and the sale of the former LÉ Déirdre in 2001 to a UK company for IR£190,000.
Mr Kenny said the LÉ Aisling, which was built in Cork in 1980, had far exceeded her operational life expectancy of 25 years.
He said Mr Daly has more than 40 years’ experience in this area, has strong international connections, and that the auction was advertised globally, and in specialist trade magazines.
Despite this, just two people bid for the ship at the auction in Cork last March — an Irish ship owner and Dutch shipping broker, Dick van der Kamp, who was successful with just the second bid of €110,000.
Mr Daly said department officials were in the room and were consulted before the sale was concluded. He also said the new owner would have faced significant costs, running to several hundred thousand euros, to prepare the vessel for re-sale, including the cost of towing the ship to Rotterdam, dry-docking and inspection, and re-classification.
The Department of Defence previously defended its decision not to set a reserve price and said it needed an early sale to maximise return to the state on a ship which was at the time, a drain on state resources.
Mr van der Kamp said he is “testing the market” with his $750,000 sale price for the vessel, which has since been renamed Avenhorn.
He said comparisons between the auction price and the sale price give a “wrong impression” about the value of the ship and that that value still has to be seen.
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