Tuesday 27 September 2016

Naval crew to face 'harrowing scenes' in humanitarian mission

Published 02/05/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Defence Minister Simon Coveney has admitted that he expects Irish sailors to face "deeply harrowing" scenes in the Mediterranean as more than a million migrants are set to try to reach Europe this year.

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Mr Coveney was speaking as he inspected the LÉ Róisín at Haulbowline Naval Base. The patrol ship has become the fourth Irish vessel to be deployed to the Mediterranean to assist with migrant rescues.

Two further Irish vessels will be deployed later this year.

The LÉ Róisín, under Lt Cdr Ultan Finegan and with an operational crew of 57, sailed from Haulbowline at noon yesterday, bound for Malta.

And among their temporary crew mates are two endangered loggerhead turtles, which will be released back into the wild when the ship arrives in the Mediterranean.

The turtles were washed ashore at Barryrow, west Cork, and Cornwall, England during winter storms.

They will be released some distance from the LÉ Róisín by crew members in a rigid inflatable boat when they reach the warm waters east of Gibraltar.

As in previous missions, the ship will operate under the direction of the Italian Coast Guard. Two of the crew, Cdr Ken Minihan and Sub Lt David McKenna, served on migrant rescue missions last year.

EU chiefs have admitted that migrant numbers this year are expected to far exceed 2015 levels. Some estimate that more than a million people will attempt to enter Europe in 2016.

With Turkey now cracking down on migrant movements under a new deal with the EU, there are mounting concerns that the more dangerous north African route will become the main entry point to Europe.

Mr Coveney said: "This is not easy work but it is vital work. It will not solve the migration crisis but it will save lives.

"But everyone appreciates that this will be harrowing work over the next few weeks."

Irish Independent

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