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Monday 16 January 2017

LE Niamh returns home after rescuing 4,200 refugees from Mediterranean

Published 02/10/2015 | 12:59

A child rescued by the LE Niamh off the coast of Italy
A child rescued by the LE Niamh off the coast of Italy

A NAVAL Service patrol vessel and its crew savoured a hero’s welcome home after three months in the Mediterranean during which time they saved more than 4,200 migrants.

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LE Niamh and her 59-strong crew arrived back at Haulbowline Naval Base in Cork to full military honours and a dockside thronged by families desperate to be reunited with their loved ones.

The ship made history as the first Irish vessel on which a baby was successfully delivered.

More than 500 relatives, friends and colleagues gathered on the dockside to cheer the crew as they ended their three month tour of duty.

Defence Forces chief of staff, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellet, said the families had every right to be proud of what the crew had achieved.

"In the course of doing their job they have seen things that no-one should have to witness," he added.

LE Niamh also recovered multiple bodies from the Mediterranean after migrant boats capsized and sank.

The vessel arrives in Cork after being replaced on station off North Africa by LE Samuel Beckett.

The new Irish patrol vessel took up duties off the North African coast on Thursday evening.

"I'm so glad they are all home safe. It has been a very long three months," Theresa Bugler from Clare admitted.

Theresa's husband, Lt Andrew Bugler, arrived on the dockside to be greeted by a giant 'Welcome Home Daddy' poster specially drawn by his daughter, Andrea.

It was also a special homecoming for Elaine Ferro.

Elaine, from Cork, was greeted by her twin sister, Shauna, and the surprise of her brother, Lee, flying in especially from Sydney, Australia with his girlfriend, Nevine.

Bosun Liam Mulcahy from Youghal, Co Cork was cheered to the echo by his daughter, Muireann, who celebrates her fifth birthday tomorrow (Saturday).

"I'm so glad my daddy is home. He is bringing me two presents," she said.

Muireann was joined at the dockside by her mother, Helen, and her big brother, Ciaran (7).

LE Samuel Beckett's skipper, Lt Cmdr Tony Geraghty, said his 59-strong crew were well briefed and prepared for the challenges of the Mediterranean.

“We have had valuable feedback from the experiences of the LE Eithne and LE Niamh out there,” he said.

“We have also been preparing for this for the past five weeks and we aim to continue to do Ireland proud in fulfilling this important humanitarian mission.”

LE Samuel Beckett will now remain on station off the north African coast for three months and is due back in Ireland on December 18.

The Irish ship will continue to operate under the control of the Italian Coastguard and will work from southern Italian and Sicilian ports.

LE Eithne served on migrant rescue duties from May to July while LE Niamh took up station in mid July.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney vowed that Ireland will continue to play its part in the humanitarian campaign to help the refugees flooding into southern and eastern Europe.

No decision has been taken on the dispatch of a fourth ship though the Government hopes it will be unnecessary given the likely impact the winter weather will have on migrants opting to risk a sea crossing.

However, while LE Samuel Beckett will face reduced migrant numbers, the vessel will also likely face much more severe weather in the Mediterranean.

Mr Coveney said both LE Eithne and LE Niamh have performed heroics in the Mediterranean with LE Samuel Beckett now set to follow suit.

“These ships and their crews have undertaken difficult and demanding nmissions with incredible professionalism and skill”, he said.

To date, both LE Eithne and LE Niamh have helped rescue almost 7,000 people. Calm seas meant LE Niamh, her skipper Lt Cmdr Daniel Wall and crew nhave faced daunting rescue demands over the past three months.

LE Niamh rescued almost 370 men, women and children in a single day. nHowever, the crew faced the agonising task of recovering dozens of bodies from the sea, the majority of whom were women and children, after several overloaded migrant craft sank off the coast of Libya.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella paid tribute to the sterling work of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean. Mr Vella, who is a Maltese politician, said the entire region owes Ireland a debt of gratitude.

“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 a fifth (LE William Butler Yeats) is due for delivery next year.

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