The Irish Naval Service made a record 771 migrant rescues in one day in the Mediterranean yesterday, following several operations which began at 6.40am.
It came as the weather improved and cash-hungry people-smugglers sent hapless refugees out in even flimsier craft — primarily because the navy have destroyed the vessels the Islamic State-controlled gangs are using after rescuing migrants from them.
The crew of LÉ James Joyce initially rescued 617 people from three wooden craft and five dinghies and brought them onboard the ship where they were given food, water, and medical treatment.
Lieutenant Commander Neil Manning, who is in charge of the ship, then sent more boarding parties to a number of other migrant-carrying vessels to rescue their 154 occupants.
They were transferred to the safety of merchant ship Assorou, which was in the area at the time.
LÉ James Joyce surpassed the previous record of 647 rescued in one day which was created last year by LÉ Eithne.
The last time LÉ James Joyce was involved in a rescue in the area was on June 29, because the weather off the coast of Libya deteriorated and the wind was blowing in the wrong direction.
However, yesterday morning, it became apparent the weather had significantly changed for the better and people smugglers reacted by putting as many vessels into the water as they could.
Of those taken onboard the navy ship, 454 were men, 138 were women, and 25 were children.
The total number rescued yesterday was more than half the number LÉ James Joyce had retrieved from the sea since starting its tour of duty in the Mediterranean on July 16.
The rescues were undertaken 69km north east of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
People smugglers normally send out migrants in large wooden fishing vessels capable of holding up to 700 people and dinghies which can hold up to 130.
Yesterday, migrants were discovered crammed in a very small fishing boat and a much smaller dinghy than normal.
LÉ James Joyce was last night steaming to the Italian port of Calabria, where the ship’s crew will hand the migrants over to the authorities.
The navy ship’s crew has now rescued 1,882 migrants since it began its deployment in the region.
The ship is due to return from her mission to the Naval Service headquarters at Haulbowline, Co Cork, on September 30.
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