Navy denies press-ganging cleaning crew

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The Independent Online
The Royal Navy always used to press-gang civilians in times of manpower shortage. But the six civilian cleaning staff who went to sea with the Navy aboard HMS Newcastle from November to last month were all volunteers. Senior Naval sources yesterday said that someone in the Senior Service had leaked the story yesterday to draw attention to the Navy's slight shortage of sailors.

Last night the Navy insisted it was usual for civilian workers to stay on board warships after they had been refitted, and that the use of six civilian cleaning experts from the Aardvark cleaning company was a "very cost-effective" move.

HMS Newcastle had been refitted at Rosyth dockyard on the Firth of Forth, and when the time came for it put to sea there were not enough sailors. The 4,500-ton Type 42 destroyer, designed to shoot down aircraft, should have a crew of 240. Even with its six civilian cleaners it only had just over 200 when it put to sea for three months of trials.

The Navy is not as badly off for sailors as the Army is for soldiers. In January, the Navy had 42,307 personnel against a requirement for 43,586 - 1,279 short. The Army, on the other hand, is 5,000 short.

Denying that the cleaners had been kept on board by mistake, a Navy spokesman said it was normal for computer and engineering contractors to sail with a refitted vessel, to check out new systems, and this time cleaners had been taken too.

A navy spokesman said: "It's important for a ship to be clean. After a refit, there's an awful lot of deep cleaning. Normally the sailors would clean the ship themselves."

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