Thursday 21 June 2018

Government expected to sanction another 12 months for Naval Service's Mediterranean mission

Rescue efforts: Members on LÉ Eithne last year as they rescue refugees in the ongoing humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean
Rescue efforts: Members on LÉ Eithne last year as they rescue refugees in the ongoing humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

The Government is expected today to sanction the participation of the Naval Service for another year in an EU mission cracking down on people smugglers and traffickers exploiting migrants in the Mediterranean.

The Cabinet will be asked by minister with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe to approve the deployment of two naval vessels in Operation Sophia.

Each vessel will spend up to 16 weeks in the south central Mediterranean, making a total of 32 weeks for the Irish deployment, which will run from mid-April to the end of November.

They will operate alongside naval ships from Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK and France, who all responded positively to the EU call to support the move countering the activities of the smugglers and traffickers as well as capturing and disposing of the criminals' boats and other assets.

Government and Dail approval was granted last summer for the initial deployment of the LE Niamh on the mission, which has been mandated by the United Nations.

The LE Niamh joined Operation Sophia last October and returned home in the week before Christmas.

During that time the crew of LE Niamh took part in the rescue of 613 migrants and helped with a further 107 rescues.

They also took part in patrols gathering intelligence on oil smugglers and countering illegal arms trafficking as well as the offensive to tackle and intercept the people traffickers.

Operation Sophia has another important role in training the Libyan coastguard and a total of 201 Libyans have been trained so far by EU member states.

The role of the Irish in the Mediterranean has been extended as a result of the naval service involvement in Sophia.

Previously, the Naval vessels were involved in Operation Pontus where the Irish saved more than 16,000 migrants over a two-year period.

But while deployment in Pontus was based on providing assistance from Ireland to the Italian authorities, Sophia is at the core of the European response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and while continuing to carry out search and rescue operations, it also allows the Irish to combat what has been described as key underlying causes of the crisis.

Since Sophia was launched, the number of migrants coming through this route has been reduced and illegal arms trafficking has been countered effectively.

At the same time, the international duties do not deflect from the Naval Service continuing to meet its national requirements, including fishery protection duties, maritime security operations including anti drug patrols and local search and rescue missions.

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