Ireland's naval rescue mission in Med to be suspended in December
Published 05/10/2015 | 02:30
Ireland will suspend the Naval Service's migrant rescue mission in the Mediterranean from early December.
The Government believes the rescue mission, undertaken in conjunction with the Italian Coastguard, can be suspended given the likelihood that winter weather and Mediterranean storms will drastically reduce the number of migrant boats being launched.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney has hinted that Ireland will consider ordering a fourth Naval Service patrol ship to waters off Sicily and Libya in early 2016 if formally requested to do so by the EU.
Three Irish ships - LÉ Eithne, LÉ Niamh and LÉ Samuel Beckett - have rescued more than 7,500 migrants since the first navy ship was deployed last May.
LÉ Niamh alone rescued more than 4,100 migrants and recovered 39 bodies.
The Government confirmed plans to bring the LÉ Samuel Beckett back to Ireland without a replacement vessel in early December.
The move came as it emerged Cork and Kerry are set to be asked to accommodate the first 100 Syrian refugees to arrive.
All will initially be housed in the direct provision system.
Meanwhile, LÉ Samuel Beckett began migrant rescue operations last Thursday and will remain on station until early December.
It began rescue patrols having taken on board vital equipment deployed in Malta by LÉ Niamh before her voyage back to Ireland.
The vessel and its 59-strong crew under Lt Cmdr Tony Geraghty are scheduled to return to Haulbowline Naval Base on December 18.
"These ships and their crews have undertaken difficult and demanding missions with incredible professionalism and skill," Mr Coveney (pictured) said.
"They have certainly done Ireland proud out there," he added. Mr Coveney said Ireland remains committed to the humanitarian mission but will closely liaise with the EU over the further resources required.
Lt Cmdr Geraghty said they had benefited massively from the experience of LÉ Eithne and LÉ Niamh on station off the Libyan coast.
It is expected that LÉ Samuel Beckett will now face a substantially reduced rescue tempo, given the deterioration in the Mediterranean weather.
LÉ Niamh was required to mount 24 different rescue operations - many undertaken in searing heat off Libya.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella paid tribute to the sterling work of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean.
The Maltese politician said: "I think the whole Mediterranean appreciates Ireland's assistance in this, especially Malta, which was even given a vessel quite separately from the assistance on the migration issue."
The Naval Service's ability to undertake such missions has been enhanced by investment in the eight-strong fleet since 1999. Four new vessels have been delivered over the past 16 years - and the LÉ William Butler Yeats is due for delivery next year.