March 25, 2019

Asbestos clean-up bill for two ships could top €1m

Industry insiders have estimated it could end up costing the taxpayer around €1m to remove asbestos from two Naval Service vessels which were supposed to be free of the potentially lethal substance.

Work to remove asbestos started on sister ships LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla on May 28, despite a consultancy firm giving them the all-clear 14 years ago.

The firm has since closed, which means it is highly unlikely the clean-up costs can be recouped. Ultimately the bill will fall to the taxpayer.

The Defence Forces confirmed that work on removing asbestos from the LÉ Ciara is now complete. It is expected the ship will become operational in the coming weeks. The clean-up on LÉ Orla is still ongoing.

The Defence Forces press office said it estimated that this will be completed sometime in the next four months.

The press office said it would not be releasing the costs of the clean-up while the work is ongoing.

However, industry sources say the bill could be anything up to €14,000 a week, especially as asbestos has to be exported to Germany as there are no suitable sites here capable of disposing of it safely.

If these asbestos clean-up costs are accurate, it means the final bill could be around €1m.

The LÉ Aoife was found to have asbestos in a gasket in an engine and the substance was also detected in LÉ Eithne’s forward pump room.

Both ships will undergo a further examination as part of a fleet-wide asbestos survey ordered by Naval Service senior officers.

It is unlikely that asbestos will be found onboard the fleet’s newer ships as the substance was widely used in the 1980s in the ship- building industry, especially in engine rooms to insulate pipes and boilers.

At the time, it was considered the best and most cost-effective insulating material and was also fire-resistant.

Meanwhile, Siptu industrial organiser Jason Palmer said his members — civilian workers at the Naval base — who were exposed to asbestos on the vessels have all had medical screening.

This has also been completed for all Naval Service personnel who were potentially in contact with the substance.

He said the Department of Defence had confirmed it will put a plan in place to ensure that ongoing screening will take place for them, as it can take up to 40 years for asbestos symptoms to manifest themselves.

Mr Palmer said asbestos-awareness training had been completed by union members on the base and some have already started a course on the safe removal of the substance.

“Discussions are ongoing about getting the remainder trained in that,” Mr Palmer said.

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Asbestos clean-up bill for two ships could top €1m