Heroes' welcome for LE Eithne crew after 3,400 refugees' lives saved on Mediterranean mission
The LE Eithne and her 69-strong crew were given a heroes welcome back to Cork after an eight week Mediterranean mission in which the Naval Service vessel saved almost 3,400 refugees.
The 31 year old vessel was cheered to the echo as it berthed atHaulbowline Naval Base – with parents, wives, children, friends and navy comrades eagerly gathered at the dockside.
Many carried flags and home-made banners to welcome the crew back to Ireland.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney and Naval Service Commodore Hugh Tully formally welcomed Cmdr Pearse O’Donnell and his crew safely home.
Also present was Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Kieran Brennan.
“When we left on May 16 I said that the crew would do Ireland proud and that is exactly what they have done,” Cmdr O’Donnell said.
Mr Coveney said it was a very proud day for both the Naval Service and Ireland.
“LE Eithne and her crew have completed a difficult and demanding mission with incredible professionalism and skill”, he said.
“But that is precisely what we have come to expect from the Naval Service and I am delighted that we now have the LE Niamh en route to take up rescue duties in the Mediterranean and, most likely the LE Roisin, ready to head out after that.”
“There have been 22 rescues and almost 3,400 saved. That is a remarkable achievement.”
The Cork TD added that there was a double celebration for the navy as the €62m new patrol vessel, LE James Joyce, was also officially delivered from Babcock Marine in the UK.
The high-tech new ship, which will be commissioned immediately for patrol duties, is the second in a three ship €180m order.
When the third vessel is delivered by late 2016, five of Ireland’s eight ship fleet will be 17 years old or younger.
“There are very ambitious plans indeed for the Naval Service,” Mr Coveney said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny sent his personal congratulations to Cmdr O’Donnell and his crew on their heroics in the Mediterranean.
But for the crew the most important tributes came from the loved ones gathered impatiently on the dockside.
Able Seaman Robert Kind was greeted by his parents on the Haulbowline dockside.
"We are very, very proud of him and the work he did out there - we are so proud of them all," Robert's father, Sean, declared.
"We were able to chat to him when the ship was near ports out there but it is great to have him home."
The rigours of the Naval Service were underlined by the fact Robert had just a few hours off before 24 hours of guard duty this weekend.
"Someone has to do it," his father laughed.
Lt Shane Mulcahy, LE Eithne’s Operations Director and a trained diver, said the crew were very proud of what they had achieved.
“We knew it was going to be difficult and demanding. But nothing prepares you for the intense heat and the terrible human suffering you see at first hand almost every day,” he said.
During the Mediterranean deployment, LE Eithne – an 85m vessel that was commissioned in 1984 – rescued a total of more than 3,400 migrants including almost 170 children off the north African coast.
At 1900 tonnes, LE Eithne is amongst the largest ships in the Irish fleet.
While the vessel was designed to handle a marine helicopter, it has not operated that capability for several years.
It is one of just vessels left in the Naval Service fleet that was built in Ireland.