Irish naval missions in Med may be extended

The Defence Minister is preparing to extend the Irish Naval Service’s humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean beyond next month’s original deadline.

Simon Coveney made his comments yesterday as the LÉ Niamh rescued another 125 people — 92 men, 26 women and seven children — from a large inflatable rib some 115km north west of Tripoli at around noon Irish time yesterday.

The latest operation came almost a week after the ship’s crew saved 367 people from drowning after a fishing vessel with some 600 people on board capsized 110km north west of Tripoli. The ship brought the rescued — 342 men, 12 women and 13 children — and 25 bodies to Sicily last Thursday.

Mr Coveney said the crew had to deal with “real tragedy, carnage and a lot of trauma” last week. “It’s amazing that they have moved on from that and are back rescuing people again,” he said as yesterday’s mission was under way.

But as the end of Ireland’s commitment to the mission approaches Mr Coveney said he expects there will be strong demands to maintain an Irish naval presence in the Mediterranean beyond September.

“If there is strong reason to maintain an Irish presence there, we will give it serious consideration. We will look at that with an open mind. I will be discussing it with the Taoiseach before any decisions are made.

“We need to make sure that we have the capacity to do it, and to do it properly.

“There is obviously a cost attached to that, around €2m more than it would have cost to run the ships in the normal fisheries protection role.

“And there are consequences. Instead of having eight ships at home to do a job, we have seven and we’ve had to prioritise, and we’ve done that. But if you look at the lives that have been protected by the work our naval service has been doing, I think that money is more than well spent.”

However, he dismissed concerns that Ireland’s commitment to the mission could be open-ended. “Given Ireland’s history o coffin ships, emigration and drowning through forced emigration, we had a moral obligation to have a practical hands on impact on trying to rescue people in the Mediterranean,” he said.

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