The Naval Service made its first migrant rescue this year as the weather improved off the coast of Libya yesterday, prompting people-smugglers to push thousands of frightened refugees, corralled for weeks in holding compounds, into deathtrap vessels onto the Mediterranean Sea.
Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne, which left her base at Haulbowline Island on May 23, was called into action at 8am when her 73-strong crew under Commander Brian FitzGerald, received a call from the Italian authorities to help 135 migrants who were packed into a dinghy 83km north-west of the Libyan coast.
After helping them the situation became so desperate in the area that the flagship was told to co-ordinate rescue efforts for three volunteer ships which were attending 10 other migrant rescue incidents.
Later the flagship undertook further rescue missions, again from dinghies, taking onboard 211 migrants. A further 85 were transferred from the volunteer rescue ships.
The migrants were receiving food, water and medical attention on the ship as the search continued last night.
As the weather has improved considerably it’s expected that LE Éithne’s crew will be extremely busy in the coming days, as will other rescue ships in the area.
Meanwhile, the Naval Service has confirmed that LÉ Eithne will spend 60 days on the migrant rescue mission and in due course be replaced by LÉ William Butler Yeats, whose crew is already in training for the operation.
Last year, the Defence Forces deployed three ships and over 150 naval service and army personnel to the Mediterranean in response to the humanitarian crisis supporting the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre with Search and Rescue assistance.
The total number of migrants rescued was 7,029 and over 15,500 since operations began in 2015.
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