Crew describe horrific scenes in sea tragedy
* LE Niamh crew describe chaotic scenes
* Men, women and children in sea
* Parents mourning children
* Survivors will receive bereavement counselling
Horrific scenes of hundreds of migrants trying to survive the capsizing of their boat were recalled yesterday following the arrival of the Naval Service's LE Niamh into Palermo port.
Up to 200 people may have drowned and 399 were saved after the overcrowded boat overturned and sank in the Mediterranean on Wednesday.
The Irish naval vessel had already deployed boats to begin a routine transferring of passengers when the tragedy happened.
"Within a matter of 30 seconds, the vessel had gone down," said Commander Ken Minihane, the most senior officer on board the LE Niamh.
"The scene initially was quite chaotic. There were a lot of people in the water. But the crew of the LE Niamh dealt with the situation extremely well," he told RTÉ News.
Irish naval personnel undertook an emergency operation to save as many of the men, women and children as possible.
Lt Commander Daniel Wall deployed all available boats on board to assist in the mass rescue effort.
Naval staff threw large numbers of life-jackets into the water to give as many people as possible a chance of staying afloat, while efforts were made to pull several more to safety.
One seaman saved a child and then handed the child to the grateful parents. But the child lapsed into unconsciousness and he performed CPR until the child revived.
"It was very upsetting yesterday to see a mother and father grieving for a very young child. Our personnel tried to resuscitate them but unfortunately there was nothing they could do," said Commander Minihane.
A Palestinian family spoke of how they shared one life jacket to survive. When the boat capsized, the father gave the life jacket to his wife, who could not swim. He then dived under water and saved their one-year-old daughter.
Boats operated by the Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) charity also had a number of boats deployed to help.
An eyewitness said: "The sea was filled with the dead and the drowning. Men, women and children."
It is believed a significant number of the migrants were unable to swim and a large number of them were believed to be refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.
The overcrowded wooden fishing boat had set out from Zuwarah in Libya, close to the Tunisian border
An MSF member who helped in the rescue said: "It was a horrific sight. People were desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats and anything they could, fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning and those who had already died."
At the port yesterday, Irish naval crews helped the survivors from the vessel onto the dockside and continued to offer them care and assistance. Some children were given gifts of colouring books.
The exhausted survivors were being cared for last night by the Red Cross and other agencies.
They had received medical care and psychological support on board the LE Niamh and MSF vessels during the overnight journey to the Sicilian port.
Read more: Migrants owed more than watery graves
Many will receive bereavement support after the traumatic loss of their loved ones.
Irish crew members were said to have performed effectively amid the frantic rescue operation despite witnessing traumatic scenes.
Six members of the crew of LE Niamh are trained in counselling people who had been through trauma. They were joined by two more personnel who flew from Ireland to offer extra support.
The migrants will be registered by the authorities and finger-printed for ongoing monitoring and processing within the migrant assistance schemes.
Many are expected to attempt to travel to other EU countries in the hope of seeking asylum.