LÉ Niamh arrives in Palermo after ‘extraordinary challenge’

The LÉ Niamh, which rescued almost 400 migrants from the Mediterranean in one operation this week, has arrived in the Italian city of Palermo.

The Irish Naval ship saved 367 people but was also carrying 25 bodies after an overcrowded fishing vessel, with some 700 people onboard, capsized 10km off the Libyan coast on Wednesday. Officials believe hundreds may have drowned.

The Irish Naval Service has said it will pass all available information on the incident to the Italian authorities, as well as providing logistical and administrative assistance over the coming days.

LÉ Niamh arrives in Palermo after ‘extraordinary challenge’

The crew will be offered assistance from a Defence Forces critical incident stress-management team, consisting of two trained Naval Service counsellors. Six crew members of the LÉ Niamh received training in counsel assistance before their deployment.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney said the scene which the crew of the LÉ Niamh came upon “will scar people for some time”.

LÉ Niamh arrives in Palermo after ‘extraordinary challenge’

“Many of these vessels are very old. The holes which would have previously carried fish boxes would have had people crammed into them and sometimes these people would have been under decks so when this vessel capsized and sank tragically in a very short period of time, I think you can expect that quite a number of people sank with the vessel, which is really horrific to think about but I think that’s probably what happened,” he said.

Mr Coveney hailed the professionalism of the crew and the fact that they managed to rescue so many people in very difficult circumstances.

LÉ Niamh arrives in Palermo after ‘extraordinary challenge’

“The LÉ Niamh, which was the only boat on the scene at the time, would have been involved in a very traumatic and very difficult rescue. The fact the crew rescued nearly 400 people is a testament to the professionalism of the Irish Naval Service,” he told RTÉ.

Commander Brian Fitzgerald of the Naval Service described the rescue operation as the “most extraordinary, challenging situation to date” and said the crew were providing warmth, food, and first aid to the hundreds of migrants the ship rescued.

LÉ Niamh arrives in Palermo after ‘extraordinary challenge’

He said: “Imagine a situation where you have upwards of 600 people onboard a boat designed for 40 and at one moment your job is to transfer them from that boat, through another boat onto a larger ship. And then within seconds you are dealing with upwards of 600 people floating in the water and the boat has sunk to the bottom of the sea. That is a challenging situation which breaks all boundaries.”

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