January 21, 2019

Naval Service begins fleet-wide survey for asbestos

The Naval Service has begun a fleet-wide survey for asbestos after the potentially lethal substance was discovered in four of its ships.

The Department of Defence also confirmed it is still carrying out work on two ships which have spent months in dry dock since asbestos was found.

Work to clean out asbestos from the LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla began on May 28. A Department of Defence spokeswoman said that the operation, which is being conducted along Health and Safety Authority guidelines, is ongoing.

She said: “There is as of yet no confirmed date for completion of works. The Naval Service and the specialist contractor are working closely together to complete works safely and quickly.”

The department has not given any cost for the work, but sources in PDForra, which represents enlisted men in the Naval Service, said it was “likely to be very expensive”.

The LÉ Aoife was found to have asbestos in a gasket in an engine. The substance was also detected in LÉ Eithne’s forward pump room. However, they have not been dry-docked like the other two vessels which appear to have far more significant asbestos issues.

The department said the outcome of the fleet-wide screening would determine what course of action would be needed to address any issues which might arise.

In the 1980s, asbestos was widely used 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.

In 2000, the Naval Service had commissioned consultants to examine its ships for the substance and it had reported a clean bill of health. The Service was shocked to discover that a substance which had been ground up on board one of the vessels during routine maintenance turned out to be asbestos.

It becomes dangerous if broken up, as dust can get into people’s lungs and cause serious illness or death. It can take up to 40 years for symptoms to manifest.

The Naval Service has since introduced protocols to identify and deal with any asbestos found on vessels.

A total of 116 Naval Service personnel and civilian workers are understood to have come in contact with asbestos on board the ships or at the Naval Service’s headquarters on Haulbowline Island, Cobh.

“All Naval Service personnel have been medically screened. Medical screening has also been undertaken for civilian employees and is nearing completion with seven civilian staff remaining to be seen,” the spokes-woman added.

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Naval Service begins fleet-wide survey for asbestos

Fears for fleet after third navy asbestos discovery

Concerns have been raised about the operational effectiveness of the Naval Service after it emerged that a third vessel has been discovered to have potentially fatal asbestos onboard.

The Irish Examiner can reveal the ageing LÉ Aoife was immobilised off the Cork coast after it was discovered that a blown engine gasket was suspected to contain asbestos.

This came after she was put to sea even though other asbestos-containing material was removed from her days before.

LÉ Aoife was anchored off Ballycotton for nearly 24 hours after the latest discovery of asbestos in its engine room and became the third vessel in the eight-ship fleet to have asbestos issues.

The LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla have been “locked down” for the last couple of weeks at the Naval Service’s base in Haulbowline, Co Cork, after asbestos was found onboard both vessels.

The Naval Service admitted last night that asbestos was found on the LÉ Aoife last week following routine maintenance and she was subsequently sent out on patrol.

A spokesman said that “concern was raised over several gaskets, lagging and other material by staff, one of these items subsequently tested positive for asbestos”.

According to PDFORRA, which represents enlisted members of the Naval Service, the LÉ Aoife, which is over 30 years old, then set sail after the removal of the asbestos.

However, PDFORRA general secretary Gerry Rooney said a gasket in one of the ship’s two engines “blew” last Monday night and she remained anchored off Ballycotton because it was also suspected that it contained asbestos. The ship went back on patrol at about 7pm last night and is expected to brought back into port shortly for a thorough asbestos check.

Mr Rooney said it was “a very worrying development” and that the navy’s “operational capabilities were diminished” as a result of the asbestos issue which, he said, was of “concern” to his members.

Mr Rooney also questioned why the Naval Service had not implem-ented a promise to train numerous personnel quickly in identifying asbestos risks on its ships.

He said it was now imperative that the navy carried out a full audit immediately of all its ships for the substance.

The Naval Service spokesman said a routine maintenance procedure on the LÉ Aoife raised concern by crew members about asbestos still being onboard.

“After the full risk assessment was completed and whilst the procedure was being carried out, a gasket which was being removed raised concerns. This gasket was sealed into a protective bag and removed from the area,” said the spokesman.

“It should be stressed that this gasket has not yet been tested so it is impossible to state if it contains asbestos. This gasket was also covered in lubricant and had not been handled or ground in such a manner that could potentially lead to the release of any harmful fibres should they prove to be present,” he said.

The spokesman said the health and welfare of its personnel remained its primary concern. “All Health and Safety Authority guidelines were followed as those issues were addressed.”

It is expected the LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla will return to service when the experts remove their asbestos “which is estimated to take a number of weeks”.

“Following the recent experiences, the Naval Service has introduced further precautionary protocols on all vessels and the level of awareness of this potential risk has also been raised to mitigate any potential risk,” said the spokesman.

Commenting on the LÉ Aoife, the spokesman said the vessel would be examined by an expert contractor when she comes back into Haulbowline, but did not stipulate exactly when that might be, primarily for security reasons.

The spokesman added that “the Naval Service is currently engaged with their personnel to further inform them on these issues and address their concerns in a proactive manner”.

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Fears for fleet after third navy asbestos discovery