Naval Service history was made yesterday as LÉ Éithne and LÉ Niamh saluted each other in the Mediterranean, with the former heading home and the latter on her way to rescue migrants trying to get from North Africa to Europe.
It was the first time such a ceremony has been performed by Irish vessels outside of home waters.
Some of the LÉ Niamh’s crew were flown out to Malta last week to be briefed on the mission, and they were transferred from LÉ Eithne to their own vessel when the ships met.
LÉ Eithne was steaming off the coast of Portugal yesterday and is expected to arrive into her Haulbolwine base at around 11.30am on Friday.
The crew’s families will arrive an hour before she ties up and are expected to give a huge welcome home to the crew who, captained by Commander Pearse O’Donnell, had rescued 3,377 migrants from unseaworthy vessels.
Meanwhile, senior county council officials are to hold talks with the flag officer commanding the Naval Service, Commodore Hugh Tully, about honouring the crew of LE Éithne.
At a meeting on Monday, councillors unanimously agreed to hold a civic reception for the crew and also to prepare one for the crew of LÉ Niamh, when she returns from her tour of duty.
The motion for a civic reception was tabled by Fianna Fáil councillor Ian Doyle, who said he wanted it “in recognition of the tremendous humanitarian work that they are doing on behalf of the Irish people, since leaving our naval base, in Hawlbowline, for the Mediterranean Sea area.”
LÉ Niamh is captained by Lieutenant Commander Daniel Wall, who has left his wife and nine-month-old daughter at home.
He took over the ship last January and his 57-strong crew, which includes two medics from the army, range in age from 20 to 53.
They expected to arrive at their area of operations by the end of the week.
The ship was deployed to Asia in 2002 for four months on a diplomatic and trade mission, and on a similar mission in 2010, in which she hosted onboard networking and business conferences in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Panama, Mexico and the US.
LÉ Niamh has seized in excess of €1bn of cocaine.
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