The Naval Service, which was formed in 1946, is the maritime component and one of the three branches of the Irish defence forces. Its base is in Haulbowline, County Cork. Since the 1970s a major role of the Naval Service has been the provision of fisheries protection in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone, sea patrol surveillance and smuggling prevention. Occasionally the Service undertakes longer missions in support of other elements of the defence forces, Irish peacekeepers serving with the United Nations, or humanitarian and trade missions, writes Gerry Breen.
1970s, the Irish Naval Service became involved in an operation to foil the importation of arms by the provisional IRA from Libya. In March, 1973, the M.V. Claudia sailed from Cyprus to Tunis, picking up arms on the Libyan coast before setting a course for Ireland.
The plan was to transfer the arms to a fishing vessel near Helvick Point. However, when the Claudia arrived to her rendezvous, she was confronted by the LÉ Fola, LÉ Deirdre and LÉ Grainne. The Claudia surrendered and the fishing boat was captured after attempting to flee. More than five tons of arms and explosives were captured.
The success of this operation and the subsequent favourable publicity helped to raise the profile of the service in the international arena.
When the Aer Lingus Flight 712, the St. Phelim, crashed in the sea near Tuskar Rock on 28th March, 1968, with the loss of all sixty-one people on board, a massive search operation was put in place to recover wreckage from the area.
The RAF and Air Corps, was well as lifeboats from Arklow, Rosslare and Kilmore along with local fishing boats assisted in the search. The Irish Naval Service continued the operation until October, and fifty-six per cent of the wreck was recovered.