Navy returning LÉ Eithne to service as Cork Covid-19 testing centre

By Sean O'Riordan
Defence Correspondent

The Irish Examiner understands the Naval Service is preparing to bring back into service its flagship, LÉ Eithne, to carry out Covid-19 virus testing in Cork city.

The vessel has the largest upper deck space of any of the navy's ships and would be ideal for such an operation.

She was taken off seagoing operations last June, along with coastal patrol vessel, LÉ Orla, due to manpower shortages.

While she was taken off operational duties, she was still maintained and the finishing touches are now being made to equip her to aid the HSE in virus testing.

It is expected that she will shortly tie up at Horgan's Quay, the longest quay in the city. The quayside is expected to be freed-up to provide parking spaces for those seeking testing.

Navy personnel will be trained to carry out the tests by HSE staff.

The reason the navy is being brought in to do the testing is because it acquired a vast amount of experience in medical screening while helping to save 18,000-plus migrants during Operations Sophia and Pontus in the Mediterranean Sea.

It is also used to wearing PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment).

The ships are also self-sufficient. They have onboard sanitary facilities, kitchens, accommodation and water-making facilities.

The Flag Officer commanding the Naval Service, Commodore Michael Malone, addressed his personnel on social media telling them that the public will be looking at them for "assurance and strong leadership".

He said that all non-essential activities in the Defence Forces had been suspended.

Commodore Malone said the health and safety of his military and civilian personnel and their families was critical and to this end "a robust system of medical protection measures" was being set up.

"Stay safe, look out for your shipmates and together we will weather this storm," he said.

In addition to the navy, 30-man platoons of troops are being put on around-the-clock duty at nine barracks around the country, to be on standby for any tasks the HSE might want the Defence Forces to carry out.

Military sources say that plans are being put in place to upscale the platoons to company strength if needs be. An average company strength is nearly 100 personnel.

Meanwhile, two members of the Air Corps have been transferred to help work at the National Ambulance Service call centre in Tallaght, Dublin.

A further 80 officer cadets have been assigned to the HSE for contact tracing.