THE Defence Forces has had to pay out more than €250,000 in emergency repair work to plug holes on two of its naval vessels.
The LE Emer and the LE Aoife, both of which are more than 30 years old, required extensive work after investigations uncovered significant structural problems.
The problem with the LE Emer – the naval service's oldest vessel – was discovered during routine maintenance work in August when a 4cm hole was found in the ship's hull.
Following that discovery, an ultra-sound of the boat found another two areas with significant weaknesses, which also had to be repaired.
The vessel was then kept in dock for six weeks while additional repairs were carried out at an estimated cost of €100,000.
The Department of Defence said it believed the deterioration in the ships was caused by "saltwater erosion and microbiological contamination propagation".
After problems with the LE Emer were discovered, inspections took place on the LE Aoife and LE Aisling, which date from 1979 and 1980 respectively.
Similar weaknesses in the hull of the LE Aoife were discovered and emergency repairs had to be carried out at a cost of €150,000. The department said there had been "extensive localised loss of hull plate detected" on the ship.
No problems were found on the LE Aisling and it was returned to service without requiring significant work.
The department said: "There is a programme of continuous planned and preventative maintenance to ensure that all naval service vessels are kept in a seaworthy condition... The three older ships are monitored through increased inspections and maintenance.
"These inspections have recently resulted in extensive repairs being carried out to the LE Emer and the LE Aoife, with holes in the hull plating of both vessels being detected and repaired in the course of dry-docking. In addition to the hull repairs, some additional maintenance work was undertaken on the LE Emer at nominal cost."
Simon Devereux, deputy general secretary of PDForra, the soldier representative organisation, said: "These three naval vessels are long due replacement given that they are 30 years old and gone past their sell-by date.
"There is still some type of tendering process going on for their replacement but this should have been happening three or four years ago. It would take that long to bring new ships on stream and in the meantime when these vessels are brought to dry dock, they discover there are holes in them.
"We have 30 or 40 people out there on these vessels in very rough conditions and this is a serious safety issue, as it would be on any vessel where holes are discovered.
"If the tendering process had been done in time, we would not have to spend this money on patch-up jobs."