The crew of LÉ James Joyce discovered 16 dead migrants onboard a metal barge who they believe died of crushing and suffocation because they were so tightly packed into the vessel.
Yesterday’s grim discovery was made less than 24 hours after the Naval Service celebrated rescuing the 10,000th migrant since it started its humanitarian operations in the Mediterranean Sea last year.
People smugglers are increasingly cramming migrants into totally unseaworthy barges and dinghies. It is usually the poorest and most vulnerable who lose their lives amid the chronic overcrowding.
Gangs charge more for travelling on upper decks of barges rather than the holds, which are sometimes locked.
LÉ James Joyce, captained by Lieutenant Commander Neil Manning, was tasked by the Italian authorities shortly after 6am yesterday to go the metal barge, which was spotted nearly 47km north-west of Tripoli.
Within moments of boarding the barge, navy personnel realised there were a number of dead people among the migrants.
In total they saved 453 migrants and it took several hours to transfer them all to LÉ James Joyce where they were given water, food, and, in some cases, medical attention.
The bodies of the dead migrants were taken onboard the naval vessel.
The ship was subsequently asked to rendezvous with an aid ship in the area, from which it took a further 152 migrants who had been picked up in the area earlier.
LÉ James Joyce was last night on her way to an Italian port to drop off the living and the dead. Counselling services will be provided to the crew following the discovery of the bodies.
Yesterday’s operation brings to 678 the total number of persons rescued by LÉ James Joyce since July 19.
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