County mayor Alan Coleman said he was annoyed to see the generous offer made by the minister for defence “seems to have been snubbed” and, if the Maltese don’t want the vessel, then Cork could use it as a floating museum.
Mr Coleman (FF) said he was aware that a group in Cork’s lower harbour — close to the naval service headquarters at Haulbowline island — wanted a naval vessel to use as a museum.
He said the Maltese saw the 36-year-old ship as “junk” and not useful as a refugee rescue ship.
The mayor got unanimous support from colleagues when he asked for the local authority to formally write to Defence Minister Simon Coveney asking him to provide the tourist group with the ship.
It came as a surprise last week when the minister announced he was giving the vessel to the Maltese government, rather than putting it up for auction, as happened with the LÉ Emer.
She was sold to Nigerian-born businessman Cyprian Imobhio for €320,000 in October 2013. The chief executive and managing director of Uniglobe Group outbid two other businessmen at a public auction in Carrigaline, Co Cork,
It was expected that the LÉ Aoife would have made more at auction, because she has an onboard desalination plant, which creates freshwater from sea water, and a bow thruster, both of which ere absent on the LÉ Emer.
The Department of Defence said discussions were continuing between its officials and the Maltese Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security about transferring the vessel to the small Mediterranean island.
That’s despite claims in The Malta Independent online that sources within AFM (Armed Forces Malta) expressed concern the LÉ Aoife wouldn’t do the job Mr Coveney had said she would. They said the vessel, which has travelled the equivalent of 28 times around the world was well past its sell-by date and was unsuitable for intercepting boatloads of refugees.
Last September, hundreds of refugees drowned after their boat sank near the island of Lampedusa, close Malta.
Flimsy boats are regularly used to transport refugees from North Africa into Europe through Maltese waters.
However, AFM personnel said the LÉ Aoife was not suitable for rescuing refugees for a number of reasons. They said it had a lack of capability to launch a small craft from its stern and the lack of a large holding area where it could accommodate migrants rescued while crossing the Mediterranean.
“This donation of a military vessel beyond its useful service life severely reverses back the clock of things and is going to see history repeat itself. And it sets a very, very bad precedent for other junk to follow being dumped on us,” a retired AFM source told The Malta Independent.