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Topical Issues Debate Dáil Eireann

10th April 2014

The need for the Minister for Defence to make a statement on reports of exposure to asbestos on Naval Service vessels

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Reply by Minister Phil Hogan on behalf of Minister Shatter

At the outset I would like to assure the House that the safety and well-being of the individuals involved in this incident is the primary concern of my colleague, the Minister for Defence and the Naval Service. I am advised by the Naval Service that they are currently following all HSA guidelines while dealing with the current situation.

While LE Orla was in Dry-dock in Cork Dockyard, work was being carried out in the Engine Room spaces. During the removal of a gasket head, Cork Dockyard Ltd. (CDL) identified material which they suspected as being asbestos. CDL informed the Naval Service. The Naval Service advised that all work should cease and that the material be analysed. CDL got an outside contractor in to get the material analysed. The outside contractor has confirmed that the material is Asbestos, the type Chrysotile- White Asbestos. CDL have since sealed the area and are awaiting surveyors report. Once they receive the report they will get the Asbestos removed and disposed of in accordance with the guidelines and procedures set by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

LE Ciara (sister ship of the LE Orla) had completed similar work while alongside in the Naval Dockyard. Following notification from CDL of the discovery of suspect material on the LE Orla, the Naval Service immediately suspended work on the LE Ciara. The Naval Service has called in external expertise to carry out a full survey and analysis on the ship.

The areas of concern on both ships are currently under quarantine until the analysis and remedial work is completed. No personnel are allowed entry into the engine room spaces and suspected contaminated areas.

The Naval Service contacted the HSA and EPA. The HSA have launched their own investigation into the incident and this is currently ongoing. A company has been contracted independently by the HSA to analyse the material onboard LE Ciara.

Since the discovery of the asbestos, air sampling and monitoring was conducted with an external contractor on both ships and the samples taken were found to be safe. All staff onboard LE Ciara and dockyard have been briefed on the situation to date. Health surveillance has been offered to all the relevant personnel.

The reason no Asbestos Risk Assessment or Asbestos Management Plan was put in place prior to this work commencing onboard either ship was because a survey carried out by an external surveyor on the LE Orla in 2000 stated that there was NO asbestos onboard the vessel.

While all types of asbestos share similiar hazards, they have varying degrees of risk. The risk from White asbestos is at the lower end of the scale. Moreover, the length of exposure is also a key factor and generally a one-off short-term exposure is unlikely to be of concern.

Medical assessments are ongoing with the Naval Medical Officer for those who were working in the areas at the time and the situation is being monitored on an ongoing basis. To date, there have been no reports of adverse health affects and should anyone have concerns or show symptoms they are being advised to highlight this immediately to Defence Forces Medical staff.

In am advised by the Naval Service that a full audit of all ships in the fleet will be completed shortly.

While the two vessels have been withdrawn from service, this was part of a scheduled maintenance plan for the vessels. As a result, the current quarantine of these vessels will not affect the overall operational plans of the Naval Service.

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