LÉ Niamh pulls 380 desperate refugees from sea in one day
The Irish Naval Service patrol vessel the LÉ Niamh has saved 380 refugees and asylum seekers in three separate rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
Dramatic recovery efforts began shortly after 7am yesterday off the Libyan coast.
The 79-metre LÉ Niamh and its 57 crew were tasked by the Italian Marine Rescue Co- ordination Centre to investigate a possible sighting of a small migrant boat 58km north-east of Tripoli.
It arrived at the scene at 8am and deployed two rigid inflatable vessels into the choppy water, from which 107 men, 14 women and three children were lifted to safety.
By 9.47am, all of the 124 people were on board the LÉ Niamh receiving water, food and medical assistance as needed.
The Médecins Sans Frontières vessel Dignity 1 was also at the scene to help.
The LÉ Niamh and its crew was then deployed to help another vessel 9km to the south. They arrived at the location at 10.49am and pulled 127 people to safety.
Crew members were then deployed to a third location where they managed to save a further 129 people from a small inflatable vessel that was sinking when they arrived.
Yesterday's missions bring the total number of rescues carried out by the Irish ship to 22 since it arrived in the Mediterranean in July.
LÉ Niamh replaced the LÉ Eithne in the region as part of the EU's Triton search and rescue initiative that was launched in May.
Excluding yesterday's efforts, the two Irish ships have rescued 6,720 migrants and refugees from the Mediterranean since the programme began. They have also recovered 39 bodies from the water.
Earlier this month, the Naval Service announced it was extending its efforts in humanitarian search and rescue missions in the region.
Thanks to the new commitments, the LÉ Samuel Beckett will take the place of sister ship the LÉ Niamh when it is recalled from its final mission on November 30.
The news comes as hard-line Hungary fenced off its border with Croatia on Thursday night.
Hungary said it could no longer deal with the incessant influx of people after it registered 14,000 new migrants on Thursday night alone.
Speaking to the Irish Independent in Dublin yesterday, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said it was sad to hear that the Hungarian border had been closed.
"It is regrettable to see the type of razor wire fencing we are seeing going up and the conditions these poor people are being subjected to," she said.
"We have seen this type of crisis before with the break-up of Yugoslavia and Europe was able to deal with it. Working together is the only way to deal with this issue."
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 4,000 people are landing by sea in Greece and Italy every day and has warned that time is running out for European leaders to resolve the crisis.