LÉ Eithne was steaming towards the Sicilian port of Palermo last night with 410 migrants she had rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.
The Naval Service flagship was involved in two rescue operations yesterday which involved it picking up the people, who sources described as being mainly from the west African region.
The previous day the ship had rescued a further 201 migrants, including a baby, and transferred them to the British navy’s amphibious transport, HMS Bulwark, which took them onto the safety of an Italian port.
No sooner had she completed the transfer than LÉ Eithne received a call back into action after the Italian Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre spotted a barge crammed with people 45km north of Tripoli.
LÉ Eithne steamed to the area and at 12.10am (Irish time) yesterday she encountered the barge laden down with 300 men, women and children.
The LÉ Eithne’s Commander Pearse O’Donnell immediately ordered RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) to be dispatched to the barge and their crews began bringing the occupants back to the ship where they were fed, given water and medical attention.
That operation was completed at around 4am.
At 9.45am yesterday the flagship came across a rubber dingy carrying approximately 110 migrants.
The same procedure was followed and they were again brought back to the ship in RIBs and were also given food and medical attention.
The helicopter flight deck on the vessel was adapted to provide more space for holding migrants.
Despite this the capacity was set at around 400.
Following the second operation yesterday LÉ Eithne had a total of 410 migrants on board and after consultation with the Italian Marine Rescue Co- Ordination Centre it was decided the best option was to go to the port of Palermo where they will be disembarked.
In the space of two days the Naval Service has now rescued 611 migrants.
Of the 410 rescued yesterday 325 were men, 36 women and 49 children.
LÉ Eithne only left her base in Haulbowline last Saturday on a 2,500km journey to the scene.
It’s estimated that since the start of the year more than 1,700 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in attempts to escape North Africa for a better life in Italy, Greece and Malta.
The UN believes in the last five months 60,000 migrants have attempted the crossing, often crammed into flimsy, unseaworthy boats.
The vessel and her 70-strong crew was seen off by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister of Defence Simon Coveney.
The Taoiseach said it was vital that Ireland played its part in the humanitarian mission and likened the plight of the migrants those who had to leave this shores in the coffin ships of the 19th century.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved