Naval Service patrol cancelled due to crew shortage

LÉ Niamh was to go on patrol last Monday but was forced to cancel sailing when a communications specialist earmarked for the four-week patrol was unable to join the crew due to illness.
Naval Service patrol cancelled due to crew shortage

The LÉ Niamh was to go on patrol last Monday but was forced to cancel sailing when a communications specialist earmarked for the four-week patrol was unable to join the crew due to illness. Picture: Denis Scannell

The manpower crisis in the Naval Service has deepened again, with ships being delayed going on patrol because they are short of a specialist crew member.

LÉ Niamh was to go on patrol last Monday but was forced to cancel sailing when a communications specialist earmarked for the four-week patrol was unable to join the crew due to illness.

The Irish Examiner understands at least three such incidents have occurred in recent months and that it is becoming a growing problem associated with critical shortages of communications specialists, medics, marine engineers, engine-room fitters, and electronics and electrical technicians.

Nearly 15 months ago, a decision was made to take two ships out of operations and to disperse their crews around the rest of the fleet to ensure the remaining ships were adequately manned.

However, the continued exodus of personnel has meant some of the remaining operational ships are struggling to find the necessary skill-sets to go to sea.

The situation is set to get worse because six engine-room fitters are understood to have signalled that they will leave the service within the next six months and a similar number are "considering their futures". It can take up to six years to fully train an engine-room fitter, known as an engine room artificer (ERA).

This continuing exodus comes amid growing concern that despite promises made two months ago by Defence Minister Simon Coveney to instigate emergency measures to provide additional remuneration for Naval Service personnel, this has yet to materialise.

RACO, the association which represents Defence Forces officers, said the manning on some ships is so low that the absence of a particular crew member has the potential to prevent the entire ship deploying.

Its assistant general secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Priestly, said 14 months on from the Government's high-level plan to attract, value, and retain members of the Permanent Defence Force, numbers of military personnel continue to drop.

“Despite some efforts to increase recruitment, no viable efforts are being made to retain highly-skilled and specialised personnel," he said.  

"It's therefore no surprise that keeping ship crews so lean means there is no contingency plan and this will always have the potential to prevent an entire ship’s crew from deploying on patrol."

It is hoped that a replacement crew member will be found for LÉ Niamh this weekend, which will allow her to go on patrol.

In the meantime, the rest of the crew members are on standby, but are not being paid their patrol duty allowance of €56 per day as they are not at sea.

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