Commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Tony Geraghty said the crew got in the festive spirit in the last few days of their mission with a full-scale Christmas playlist on rotation on board the ship.
“The atmosphere on board has been fabulous the last couple of days. People smiling from ear to ear. People playing Christmas music. We were playing ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ by Chris Rea earlier today. That was fabulous. It’s a great day. It is a really important day for the families.”
Among the relatives at the quayside was Shelley Cotter from Cobh, Co Cork, who was “bursting with pride” as she waited for the return of her husband James and her 21-year-old son Adam. Mrs Cotter said it was “desperately hard” to be separated from her eldest son and her husband for three months.
“But we knew it was going to be. We knew the job they were going to do and we supported them all the way. We are exceedingly proud. There are five kids in our family. So it wasn’t easy.
“But I am a very proud naval wife and mother. I think they have done a fantastic job. They needed to do this. My husband has his children safe in bed every night. They needed to be able to give that to other families.”
Shelley’s sister-in-law, Trish Carlos, also of Cobh, was eagerly anticipating the return her brother James and her nephew Adam.
Mrs Carlos said she was delighted to hear from James about the camaraderie on board the ship in spite of the difficult and often gruelling mission. “It’s been wonderful. Their Movember [moustache for men’s health] campaign was hilarious. It is good that they stuck together and kept together. We are delighted to have them home safe and sound. It is nerve wracking. With the sea there is always that element of some kind of danger. The Navy is like the family business.”
Petty Officer Andrew O’Sullivan said it was “an unbelievable feeling” to have saved so many lives at sea.
“You couldn’t explain it unless you were out there to do it. It is a magnificent feeling. I would go back again. If I was allowed (by my wife)! It was a fantastic feeling having my nine-year-old son Luke run to me. I can’t wait for Christmas. I will cook the Christmas dinner. I am looking forward to that.”
The LÉ Samuel Beckett was the third ship deployed by the Naval Service to the Mediterranean Sea in order to assist in tackling the refugee and migrant crisis this year.
It departed from the naval base in Cork on September 24 and was involved in five major search and rescue operations.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney thanked the crew of the vessel on behalf of the Government.
“I wish to express my appreciation and that of the Government for the valuable work done by the Defence Forces serving with the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean,” said Mr Coveney.
The total rescued by the Naval Service since the first ship deployed in May is 8,631 persons.