Naval Service said LE Aisling was proving a massive drain on manpower and resources before controversial sale for just €110,000

THE Naval Service were eager to sell off one of their old ships because it was taking up space and every time they needed to move it, they had to hire expensive tug boats.

The LE Aisling was sold in public auction for just €110,000 to a Dutch businessman in March.

However, it caused controversy when it emerged that the company involved had re-advertised it for sale at €685,000 less than two months later.

Internal Departmental documents show how the ship was thought to have €35,000 worth of fuel and lubricating oil on board.

However, it was subsequently discovered there was just €16,000 of fuel in the tanks that would have been uneconomical to remove, and which, was instead given away as part of the sale.

Requests by Galway City Council to have the LE Aisling turned into a floating museum in the city’s harbour were also advised against amid fears the Department of Defence would end up picking up some of the tab.

The boat – even though it was no longer in active use – was still proving a considerable burden to Naval Service resources, FOI records show.

In an email to the Department of Defence, Commander Paddy Harkin wrote: “The ship continues to be a drain on manpower, is taking up a berth in the Naval Basin and is deteriorating in condition. Ideally, the ship should be disposed of soonest through public auction or otherwise.”

A detailed memo prepared for Minister Paul Kehoe explained that the ship was also “totally unsuited” for use as a visitor attraction.

The minister was told that it would require ongoing maintenance because of its age and that the Department or Defence Forces could end up saddled with insurance liabilities and risks.

The biggest issue however, was the fact that it was taking up much needed space at the Naval Base in Haulbowline, Co Cork.

Each month, the Naval Service were forced to move the ship at least six or eight times, which meant a tug had to be hired to help move it.

Naval Service Commander Pearse O’Donnell wrote: “Depending on weather conditions, a small or a large tug is required for the move. This comes at considerable cost per move, approx. €150 for the small tug and €1,500 for the large tug.”

Thirteen staff were still posted to the LE Aisling as a “skeleton crew”, which was required to prevent unauthorised access or theft.

Commander O’Donnell wrote: “Because these people are posted to Aisling still, they cannot be deployed to other operational units where they are needed.”

There were also health and safety risks involved with what were described as continued “dead ship moves”, he said.

His message explained: “Personnel manning the ship are not fully familiar with the deck arrangements as they are coming from other ships. There are always risks associated with dead ship moves (less control without engines running) and weather, tug availability etc all feed into this.”

He said the LE Aisling was also causing operational problems as every time a ship wanted to move or set sail, the empty vessel had to be factored in.

He concluded: “Whilst maintenance is being carried out on machinery and equipment, the lack of a permanent deck crew has limited the amount of upkeep that can be carried out on the upper decks.

“This will affect the visual appearance of the ship and despite being structurally sound and seaworthy the visual could have an impact on value the longer it is left to sell.”

Another email explained how the ship had a significant amount of fuel and “lub oil” on board but that it would be better to sell it with the boat.

“The fuel and [lub oil] on Aisling have now been sitting without rotation for approximately twelve months, meaning its quality cannot be guaranteed for the operational use that the Naval Service ships require,” wrote Commander O’Donnell.

Within ten days of his email, plans to sell the boat were confirmed and the Department of Defence were delighted when the ship was offloaded. One internal email said: “Great news that the LE Aisling sold yesterday!”

A Departmental note on the auction said: “No reserve was set and bidding opened at €100,000. A bid for this amount was made and [our auctioneer] consulted with [our officials] on the side and it was confirmed that this bid was acceptable.

“Bidding resumed, and the second and final bid of €110,000 was accepted from Mr Dick Van Der Kamp, a Dutch shipbroker.”

In a statement, the Department of Defence said Galway City Council had never provided them with a “fully costed feasibility study” regarding plans to turn the boat into a museum.

“Given the continued absence of the requested proposal … arrangements were put in place to sell the vessel by way of public auction,” they said.

“It was imperative the vessel was sold at an early date. If a reserve price was set and was not met, the Department ran the risk of having to expend further funds to dispose of the vessel by way of scrap in an environmentally sound manner.

“The Department is satisfied that the accepted bid reflected the market value of a thirty-seven-year-old vessel of this nature.

“[We are] aware of the proposed resale of the former LE Aisling … however, it is important to bear in mind that this is speculative as the vessel has not yet been sold and there is no assurance that it will be sold for this price or indeed if it will sell at all.”

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