A VIP passenger will be onboard LÉ Niamh when she departs her base next week for a three-month migrant rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea,.
Sally, a loggerhead sea turtle, is to be repatriated to warm waters off the Strait of Gibraltar by the ship’s crew after she was saved from almost certain death off the coast of Kerry.
Last April, a team of divers spotted the turtle, which looked the worse for wear, on the bottom of the sea near Fenit.
They contacted experts at Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium, who asked them to go back to the site and retrieve the turtle.
“It was very early in the year for a loggerhead to be in the area and the water was very cold. She was very lethargic, almost comatose when they recovered her,” said Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium senior aquarist Louise Overy.
“She was hypothermic when we got her and we think she’d been bitten by a shark because there were pockets of her shell rotting.”
Five months later, following some TLC, Sally has put on nearly 10kg in weight and is “very feisty”.
A special transportation box has been built by the aquarium to keep Sally comfortable on the four to five days it will take before she is released back into the sea.
“We have memory foam padding underneath and it will be covered in wetsuit material. We will also have to cover her shell with Vaseline to stop it drying out,” said Ms Overy.
“The navy will spray her to keep her moist and they will monitor her temperature and behaviour throughout the trip.”
A hotline will be set up between the ship and experts back in Dingle in case there are any problems.
She now weighs around 40kg and won’t require feeding on the trip.
The crew of LÉ Niamh will lower temperature measuring equipment into the sea and release the turtle when it is considered warm enough.
It is not the first time that the Naval Service has repatriated rescued turtles into the wild.
In May 2016, two loggerhead turtles were released from LÉ Róisín.
The turtles had been washed up on the Irish coast during the previous winter’s storms and also nursed back to health in Dingle. One of them was rescued at Moloney’s Beach, Barryroe, West Cork.
It is expected that LÉ Niamh will depart Haulbowline on the morning of October 6 for her tour of duty.
While it has yet to be confirmed, it is expected that LÉ William Butler Yeats will return to Haulbowline later that same day after completing her three-month migrant rescue mission.