Home in time for Christmas. Hugs, kisses, and a few tears of joy shed as the crew of the LÉ Samuel Beckett disembarked to be greeted by loved ones yesterday after 85 days on migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.
However, many of the sailors will forever remember the horrors they witnessed off the coast of Libya, as merciless people-smugglers knowingly send migrants to a certain death if they’re not rescued.
Ship’s captain Lieutenant Commander Darragh Kirwan said he had no doubt the migrants crammed into inflatable rubber dinghies would never have made it to Italy.
On their first day of operations, six migrants drowned as the ship went to the rescue of a group packed into a dinghy.
“Around 25% of all inflatables we came across had punctured chambers. There isn’t enough food on board them and they are only given enough petrol for 50 miles. They [people smugglers] know they are sending people to their deaths,” the senior officer said.
To add to their woes, “jackals”, as the navy term them, often prey on the migrants at sea, stealing their outboard motors and personal valuables.
Lt Comdr Kirwan said migrants had told them they had paid up to €1,000 to get on a dinghy.
Lieutenant Diarmuid O’Donovan led the the boarding parties, who rescued as many migrants as they could. He said there were some “very harrowing scenes” witnessed by the crew when they couldn’t prevent people from drowning.
“I call those dinghies ‘nine metres of human misery’. There are 120 men, women, and children crammed into them. The highlight of my day would be sticking a knife into them to make sure they were never used again,” he said.
The ship rescued 772 migrants from a wooden barge; a record for one operation.
“That was a very good day for us, but it was a stressful [rescue] operation. I found a quarter dinar coin aboard it and made a necklace out of it for my daughter, Siobhán. The guys I worked with [during the rescues] were amazing. It was real ‘Band of Brothers’ stuff,” he said.
The crew saved 3,090 migrants and recovered the bodies of 12 drowning victims during their tour of duty. It brought to 15,623 the number of migrants rescued by the Naval Service since it started operations in the Mediterranean on May 16, 2015.
The navy is ready to join the rescue operations again next spring, if the Government sanctions it.
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