LÉ Eithne comes to rescue of migrants off the Libyan coast
Published 29/05/2015 | 02:30
A total of 201 migrants have been rescued in an operation involving Ireland's naval service flagship LÉ Eithne off the Libyan coast.
The joint rescue mission involved boats from Italy, Germany and Britain.
The refugees were huddled in a flotilla of five high-risk makeshift inflatable vessels, and included men, women, and children - including one infant.
The LÉ Eithne - which departed from Cork Harbour almost two week ago - has a crew of 68, as well as two medics from the Army Medical Corps.
The ship is expected to be deployed in the Mediterranean until the end of July.
The rescue operation was launched when the alarm was raised by the Italian Marine Rescue Coordination Centre.
The LÉ Eithne was deployed immediately to the scene as concern mounted over the increasing risk to the fleeing refugees.
However, sea conditions were calm and the Irish crew were able to provide food, water and first aid to the migrants.
Those rescued were then transferred to a British ship before being transported to an Italian port.
This is the first rescue involving the Irish Naval Service since the Government requested it help with the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean.
The ship was deployed from Cork Harbour as the death toll involving fleeing refugees continued to mount.
But despite the risk of drowning, in what for many is a perilous journey in sub-standard boats, there has been a dramatic escalation in the number of refugees desperate to gain entry to the EU.
The exodus from African countries has been swelled by people fleeing political instability in countries such as Syria and Iraq.
The LÉ Eithne's large deck space, which can accommodate more than 200 migrants in an emergency, is particularly suitable for this kind of rescue work.
The ship's deployment is part of the Government's response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, with an estimated 40,000 people making the crossing from North Africa to Italy and Greece in the past four months.
More than 1,700 people have died trying to make the journey.
The crew's deployment is expected to last for around 10 weeks, when operational demands in the Mediterranean will be reassessed.