Saturday 24 June 2017

Irish naval officer recalls trauma of rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean

Jill Hamilton (37), a communications operator, served on the Irish Naval ship, LÉ Róisín
Jill Hamilton (37), a communications operator, served on the Irish Naval ship, LÉ Róisín

Iag Begley

An Irish naval officer who has helped more than a thousand migrants from the Mediterranean Sea held back tears as she described the rescue of a toddler after a dangerous journey which her mother didn't survive.

Jill Hamilton (37), a communications operator, served on the Irish Naval ship, LÉ Róisín, last May on a three-month humanitarian mission to aid migrants fleeing Syria and other Middle Eastern and African countries.

A month after the ship’s departure, it responded to a request for help from the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

The flimsy rubber dinghy was located 37 nautical miles off the coast of Tripoli with a total of 111 migrants on board.

Speaking from South Lebanon, the Co Cork native told Independent.ie that the operation was particularly traumatic for her.

“What sticks out to me was that there was a child up on deck with her auntie looking for her mother," she said.

“With the language barrier it was hard to know what she was saying, but there was one last person taken from the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) being given CPR.”

“Unfortunately, that lady never made it.”

The woman who died happened to be the mother of this young child. On the same perilous journey another woman also died.

“When they told the child and her auntie that the mother didn’t make it, it was just traumatic,” she said.

"I have a son at home and maybe that's why seeing that happen affected me but yet we just had to carry on with our days work knowing that the child's mother was on deck in a body bag."

Ms Hamilton added that she feels the migration crisis deserves “a hell of a lot more attention”.

“To see first-hand the amount of people coming off those boats is just ridiculous and it’s something that doesn’t leave your mind.

“We’ve completed multiple operations down the Mediterranean…Some [migrants] who we’ve brought on board had literally nothing on them, not even a t-shirt.

“The little children were so happy [to see us], not realising what has happened or what they were heading into.

“To think that people take the chance to get on a boat not knowing if they’re going to get out alive obviously goes to show exactly what they’re leaving.”

During LÉ Róisín’s deployment the crew rescued 1, 263 people and recovered four deceased persons from the water.

Ms Hamilton, who has served 19 years in the Irish Naval Service, is now stationed in South Lebanon as part of the UN mandate force UNIFIL.

Her son Jamie (16) has the proud distinction of being the first child in the Republic to have both parents serving in the Naval Service.

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