I propose to take Questions Nos. 953 to 955, inclusive, together.
A contract was signed in October 2010, with Babcock Marine, part of the Babcock International Group, in the United Kingdom for the provision of two new offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Naval Service. The cost of the two new ships is €108 million, exclusive of VAT. In addition, the cost of providing a weapons system for the ships, similar to the systems on LE Roisin and LE Niamh, is €7.8 million, exclusive of VAT. The two new ships are being built by Babcock Marine in Appledore, Devon in the United Kingdom, the same shipyard where both LE Roisin and LE Niamh were built. The build programme for the first ship is on schedule. The cutting of steel for the second ship has already commenced. The two new ships will be larger vessels than LE Roisin and LE Niamh with a length of 89.5 m. The ships will have a top speed of 23 knots and will have a crew of 44, plus the capacity to take 10 trainees.
The Naval Service will have a significant presence of experienced personnel in the Appledore Shipyard in the build up to the Harbour Acceptance Trials and the Sea Acceptance Trials on the ship scheduled to take place before the end of the year. This will allow the required time for personnel to build up familiarity with the workings of the new ship. As is the case with all new ships, the training process will continue when the ship arrives in the Naval Base in Cork and ongoing crew training will be part and parcel of normal patrolling.
On the issue of the decommissioning of Naval Service ships, the process for the selection of a qualified person-company to assist the Department and the Naval Service with the sale-disposal of LE Emer and LE Aoife is still ongoing and I am not in a position to give further details on the matter at this stage.
With regard to the change in naming policy for these new ships, I considered that the policy for naming Naval Service ships should be examined and I came to the view that the naming of the ships after world renowned Irish literary figures will facilitate greater recognition for our Naval Services when they are operating in the international maritime domain, particularly when they visit foreign ports. I am also of the view that the time is right for a change in our traditional approach of naming ships after Irish female mythological figures to an approach which reflects a more modern and inclusive Ireland.