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Sunday 4 December 2016

Rape victims among refugees saved from the sea by LE Eithne

Le Eithne's crew bought toys for 164 children saved in the Med

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Migrants wait to disembark from the Irish naval ship at the Palermo harbor, Italy, June 30. The crew of the Le Eithne saved 164 children among the almost 3,400 migrants it has rescued since mid-May (AP Photo/Alessandro Fucarini)
Migrants wait to disembark from the Irish naval ship at the Palermo harbor, Italy, June 30. The crew of the Le Eithne saved 164 children among the almost 3,400 migrants it has rescued since mid-May (AP Photo/Alessandro Fucarini)

It set out from Ireland with toys, nappies, milk formula and 50 jars of baby food on board - unusual supplies for the Navy's flagship, the LE Eithne.

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But the Irish vessel was on no ordinary mission.

Among the tens of thousands of desperate migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe are hundreds of children. And the crew of the LE Eithne saved 164 children among the almost 3,400 migrants it has rescued since mid-May.

Mission accomplished, the vessel is on its way home, to be replaced in the coming days by the LE Niamh.

But the children rescued by the crew will never forget their heroics and generosity. "The number of children we dealt with was very high," said Corkman Lt Shane Mulcahy (28), the ship's Search and Rescue Coordination officer.

"The crew went off on their own backs and purchased kids' toy - about 10 boxes of toys, colouring books, small trinkets. They themselves issued them out. It does make a huge difference.

"For guys being on deployment for a long period of time, obviously missing their own families, it does feel good to be able to give something to the children on board as well," Lt Mulcahy said.

All of the under-12s rescued by the LE Eithne were accompanied by family members.

Lt Mulcahy said extra care had to be taken during the rescue of the children.

"In terms of prioritisation of bringing people on board, it's generally women and children first. With small children it's not only impractical but relatively impossible to get a number of well-fitting infant life-jackets," he said.

Extra personnel were on hand when babies were being brought on board to prevent them falling into the sea as the handover happened from the smaller boats.

LS Katie O'Leary (27) and medic Pvt Sonya Larrigan (36) - the only two women on the crew - were responsible for carrying out the routine searches on the women and children. "Some boats would have 15 females and you have to go through them and kids so we were very busy," LS O'Leary said.

One woman was over seven months pregnant and Pvt Larrigan said the crew were concerned to get her to land as soon as possible.

"We were still a day away from port at that stage. We got her to hospital in Italy."

It was all a new experience for the ship's doctor Alan Cummins (35), from Bishopstown, Co Cork. "On a crew of 69 males, a pregnancy wouldn't be a regular occurrence," he said laughing.

Many of the women who came on board suffered from burns from the fuel used on board the boats, he said.

When rescue ships make port in Italy people like Medecins Sans Frontieres doctor Chiara Montaldo assess the migrants for medical needs.

"We have seen an increase in children coming," the Italian doctor, who is the MSF co-ordinator in Sicily, told the Sunday Independent.

According to Dr Montaldo, the youngest children appear to suffer few ill-effects from their experiences - be it warzones in their home countries or the nightmare of the boats. "They're more protected."

With the older children it's different."We have observed some psychological symptoms - depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress."

The future is uncertain for these children. Many have entered asylum in Italy. Others will be resettled to other countries, including Ireland, under a European plan which the Government signed up to last week.

Sunday Independent

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