Navy had to wait hours to recover body

An Irish naval service ship on Mediterranean rescue several years ago was unable to recover a dead migrant from the water for four hours because EU states refused to accept the body, a former mission member has said.

Navy had to wait hours to recover body

An Irish naval service ship on Mediterranean rescue several years ago was unable to recover a dead migrant from the water for four hours because EU states refused to accept the body, a former mission member has said.

The crew of the LÉ Samuel Beckett stood by until the Maltese authorities agreed to allow the ship to land the body, Able Seaman Ian Trimble, a Naval Service diver, said.

Four EU states had been contacted by the ship, he said. The body was in international waters and no state wanted responsibility.

The harrowing experience was recounted by Trimble and three other Naval Service crew, led by Commander Anthony Geraghty, at a Galway Arts Festival ‘First Thought’ talk convened by Caitriona Crowe, and chaired by journalist Judy Murphy.

The LÉ Samuel Beckett was deployed on several migrant rescue missions between 2015 and 2018. Eleven Irish ships rescued 18,000 people, delivered two babies, and recovered 86 bodies.

EU maritime missions were suspended earlier this year, after Italy’s far-right government refused to accept more migrants, but aerial reconnaissance continues. Up to 700 people are reported to have drowned this year, according to International Organisation for Migration figures, with 150 dying last week.

Commander Geraghty, who would return if Ireland’s assistance was sought as part of a resumed EU effort, said he could never understand how anybody would get into a vessel with no lifejackets and no flares.

He said he could only conclude that the lives of migrants at home was “so bad that no matter what happens to them, it’s worth it” in risking a crossing at sea.

In his 29 years with the Naval Service, his three-month mission in the Mediterranean had been “the most fulfilling,” he said.

The barges, crowded with between 250 and 800 migrants, were particularly challenging, because for every person on the top deck, there would be many people locked below, Commander Geraghty said. If the barge capsized, those locked in the hold would drown.

Medical sick berth attendant Seán Doyle said most of the injuries he treated were chemical burns from fuel, dehydration and exhaustion. “I don’t think anything really prepared us. I saw things I wouldn’t want to see, and wouldn’t want anyone else to see,” Petty Officer Trish O’Sullivan, an electrician, said. O’Sullivan, who served on two Med missions, in 2015 and 2016, said “military rank goes out the window” during a rescue.

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