THE Naval Service's first new €50m 'Star Wars' patrol vessel will be delivered after successfully undergoing sea trials in the UK.
The LE Samuel Beckett, which is scheduled to arrive in Cork harbour today, replaces the 35-year-old LE Emer which was sold last October to an African consortium.
It will bring Ireland's fleet back to full capacity with a second new vessel, LE James Joyce, due for delivery in 2015.
The LE Samuel Beckett left the River Torridge and Appledore's shipyard in the UK at 6.15pm on Monday with her trials skipper, Captain Jerry Waller, formally handing the vessel over to a Naval Service commander. Crew trials will be run for three days off Ireland's south coast.
Both new vessels represent the most high-tech and capable patrol vessels ever operated by the Naval Service.
The new ships, built by Babcock Marine in the UK, are developments of the design first chosen for the LE Roisin/LE Niamh in 1997. However, the LE Samuel Beckett boasts so-called 'Star Wars' technology and is capable of operating remotely-controlled drones or aerial vehicles.
Naval Service officials confirmed that the new ship will dramatically increase the technological capacity of the navy both in terms of surveillance and incident response times.
The ability to operate drones will also dramatically increase the navy's patrol and surveillance capabilities. The ship can similarly operate remotely-controlled mini-submarines.
With a top speed of 23 knots, the new ships will be over 30pc faster than the ageing vessels they replace. By the time both ships are operational in 2015, six of Ireland's eight-strong fleet will be more than 30 years old.
The Government has insisted the deal represents good value for money.
The two new ships will be the first commissioned for the Naval Service in a decade.
They will replace the LE Emer (1978) and the LE Aoife (1979) both of which were into their fourth decade of service.
The LE Samuel Beckett also makes history in being the first modern Irish vessel not to be given a traditional female name.
The decision to name the vessels after Irish literary figures is aimed to enhance the marketing and promotion potential of the ships when they undertake courtesy visits overseas.