LE Eithne sets sail on mission to combat Med refugee crisis
Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday said Ireland "will never forget the 19th-Century famine coffin ships" as the Government ordered the navy patrol vessel LE Eithne to the Mediterranean to help with the refugee crisis.
Mr Kenny personally travelled to Cork to wish the LE Eithne, under Cmdr Pearse O'Donnell and her 69-strong crew, well in Ireland's first overseas deployment of the Naval Service for a major humanitarian mission.
The 85m vessel departed Cork at 9am yesterday and will take a week to reach station off southern Italy.
LE Eithne, which is equipped with four navy and army medics, will then spend eight weeks on rescue patrols before returning to Ireland.
The navy flagship will then be replaced by another vessel in the Mediterranean as part of Ireland's EU/UN commitment to helping Italy deal with the flood of refugees from North Africa.
Mr Kenny said Ireland's participation in the mission was part of a long-standing commitment to humanitarian assistance.
"It was a privilege for Ireland to be able to offer a fully equipped navy vessel to assist with this humanitarian crisis," Mr Kenny said. "It is in our history and in our DNA in Ireland, having dealt with coffin ships after the time of the Famine and the Great Hunger. We must never forget that, over a century ago, many of our ancestors were facing precisely the same plight as these poor people, fleeing from hunger, poverty and conflict."
LE Eithne will now operate under Italian direction and any refugees rescued will be brought to ports in either Sicily or the southern Italian mainland.
Operations director, Lt Shane Mulcahy, said the LE Eithne is heavily stocked with food, water, clothing, medicines and supplies, even including nappies and baby formula. The ship can cope with up to 400 refugees in any single marine rescue.
"This is a huge opportunity for the Naval Service in terms of having a ship deploy overseas on a humanitarian mission like this," he said.
The deployment of the LE Eithne was sanctioned by the Cabinet following a proposal tabled Defence Minister Simon Coveney as Ireland's response to the EU demand for emergency action over the migrant crisis.
Mr Coveney said yesterday: "This is a first significant overseas mission for the Naval Service and, as a country and a government, we have huge confidence in them to do a professional, compassionate and courageous job. They will undoubtedly deal with trauma and tragedy out there."
LE Eithne was commissioned in 1984. It is the second-oldest vessel in the fleet and one of only two Irish-built vessels still operated by the Naval Service. It is the flagship of the Naval Service and, at 1,900 tonnes, is among the largest ships in the fleet.