ONE of the country's flagship naval vessels will have to go to dry dock for repairs, for the second time in eight months. The LE Aoife will be taken in for what the Defence Forces describe as "routine maintenance" next month, which will involve a major overhaul of the vessel. The ship was taken in for repairs last autumn when a serious structural weakness was found in the hull area following an emergency inspection.

The repairs, carried out because of "extensive localised loss of hull plate detected" on the ship cost €150,000.

Now, a second round of repairs will be carried out on the vessel, but the Irish Defence Forces has declined to say how much it will cost.

Under ordinary circumstances, the ship and other similar vessels would be due for replacement due to their age and general deterioration over time. However, plans for replacing the current fleet are unlikely to go ahead because of the country's economic circumstances.

Army representative association PDForra has also expressed concerns about the state of the vessels and said the damage was a "serious safety issue".

More than €250,000 was spent on repairs to the LE Aoife and the LE Emer after holes were found last summer. The LE Emer was due in for routine maintenance work in August when a 4cm hole was discovered in the ship's hull. Following that discovery, an ultra-sound of the boat found another two areas, which had significant weaknesses, and also required repair.

As a precautionary measure, the LE Aoife and LE Aisling were inspected. No problems emerged with the structural integrity of the Aisling and it was returned to service.

The damage was believed to have been caused by ocean conditions, primarily "saltwater­ erosion and microbiological contamination propagation".