LÉ Samuel Beckett will depart her base in Haulbowline, Co Cork, this morning to take over refugee rescue missions in the Mediterranean from LÉ Niamh.
It’s expected that she will take a week to get to her area of operations between Sicily and Libya and prior to starting her mission, her 59-strong crew under the command of Lieutenant Commander Anthony Geraghty, will get a briefing from the Italian authorities in Sicily.
Meanwhile, LÉ Niamh’s crew have finished their mission and are currently enjoying some R&R in the Maltese capital Valletta.
Yesterday the crew hosted a reception for the Irish ambassador and they will depart for home on Saturday. Depending on weather she should arrive in Haulbowline on Friday, October 2. Both ships will rendezvous somewhere near Gibraltar in the coming days, where some personnel and equipment will be transferred between them.
LÉ Niamh has rescued 3,981 refugees during her mission; LÉ Eithne took onboard 3,337.
LÉ Eithne’s mission went off virtually without incident, but the crew of LÉ Niamh have had to endure some horrific scenes.
On July 27 they came across a wooden barge which was packed with refugees. They rescued those on the top decks, but later discovered 14 dead in a lower deck. Some of them had been crushed to death.
On August 5, on what was her ninth search and rescue mission, the ship encountered a capsizing fishing vessel with 800 people crammed onboard. She rescued 363 from the water and recovered 25 bodies.
Unfortunately many hundreds drowned and a large number of their bodies were never recovered. The people-smuggling gangs, operating in lawless Libya, had locked a large number of refugees in the fishing vessel’s hold and they had no chance of escape.
A spokesman for the Naval Service said that the crew had received expert counselling as a result of the horrific discoveries and anybody who continued to need it would get it.
On a more positive note, the crew will get a major welcome when they return home on October 2. Similar to when LÉ Eithne returned from her mission, families will be invited to the quayside at the naval base to greet the sailors as they come back for a well-earned rest.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney said he expected LÉ Samuel Beckett, the second newest of the Naval Service ships, to remain in the Mediterranean Sea until the end of November, when the weather gets worse and few, if any, refugees would attempt a crossing.
“The people of Ireland can truly be proud of the marvellous work the Naval Service has done and is continuing to do and I wish them every continued success with their work,” Mr Coveney said.
Meanwhile, he says he would be happy to stick with the Cabinet portfolios he has got if his government wins the next election. He has also said he is confident he will get the money needed in the budget to start upgrading the Defence Forces.
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