Freedom of Information request into naval ship’s delayed migrant mission in Mediterranean Sea

A request under the Freedom of Information Act has been lodged with the Department of Defence in an attempt to establish why a Naval Service ship was delayed by more than three weeks from leaving her base to save migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne was scheduled to leave its base in Haulbowline Island on May 1, but didn’t depart until May 23.

On April 11, the Government sanctioned the dispatch of the vessel to participate in the humanitarian mission and the Naval Service informed government the ship would be ready to leave on May 1.

But the Department of Defence said there was a hold-up in paperwork required to be signed off between it and the Italian authorities to allow the ship participate in the migrant rescue mission, Operation Pontus.

However, the department wouldn’t elaborate on the reasons for the hold-up.

Sinn Féin spokesman on Defence, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said he has requested “all recorded correspondence between the Minister of Defence (Paul Kehoe) and his department officials that were sent and received to the relevant authorities who were tasked with organising the departure of the vessel”.

The crew remained on standby during this period, not knowing when they would finally cast off. Being on 24-hour notice to leave during this period made it virtually impossible to plan for family events.

The delay meant that LÉ Eithne didn’t reach her patrol area off the coast of Libya until May 30. To date she hasn’t been involved in any migrant rescue operations.

The Naval service said this is due to adverse weather in the area. The ship will remain on patrol for the next few days before she heads for Valletta, Malta where she will refuel and resupply.

Meanwhile, it has been announced that the plight of migrants will be one of the main topics at this year’s Immrama Festival of Travel Writing which will be held in Lismore, Co Waterford.

One of the guest speakers at the festival, which runs from June 14 to 18, will be Terry Waite.

In 1987 he was taken hostage and kept in captivity for almost five years. Terry worked most of his life in most of the world’s conflict zones in the area of international affairs. Whilst living in Uganda, he negotiated directly with the late General Amin for the release of hostages; and as a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s private staff was successful in aiding the freedom of hostages in Iran, Libya and Beirut.

It was in Beirut that he was captured.

“In many respects, those who are forced to leave their home country because of warfare or other forms of disruption are made captive to circumstances. In many cases, they have lost everything and are dependent on the goodwill of others to survive. What is it like to be a captive and how is it possible to keep mentally alive under such circumstances,” Mr Waite said.

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