The Naval Service in Ireland 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 remove 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 inhaled into the 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.

If you have been exposed to asbestos whilst working in the ship building industry, please contact us on Freephone 0800 294 6035 or speak to us on live chat where we will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.