It's almost 'mission accomplished' in Med for crew
'If three ministers are coming to the gangway at 6am, 2,000 miles from home, we've done something very good or very bad," the LÉ Eithne's captain, Cmdr Pearse O'Donnell, told his crew.
They were in jubilant form as they waited for the dignitaries to speak, giving a rousing rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for lead mechanic Brendan Daly, who turned 33. "It was a bit embarrassing, to be honest with you. That was the fourth one this morning," he said.
But why wouldn't they be in high spirits with their mission almost over - the ship is to be replaced by the LÉ Niamh - and with a few days R&R in Malta taking in tours of the filming locations of 'Game of Thrones', diving and an MTV gig. Those lucky enough to be off-duty certainly earned the break after 22 individual rescue missions that saw 3,376 refugees plucked from barely seaworthy craft.
Beaming Defence Minister Simon Coveney dispelled any fears he was there to deliver a reprimand and thanked the heroes of the Irish flagship for their efforts in saving thousands of lives adding: "You have made us very proud as people."
"They're sick listening to me saying well done to them. I've run out of superlatives at this stage," Cmdr O'Donnell said. "In 36 years service, I never thought that I would ever come to a mission like this," he added.
It's an unprecedented mission for the ship, which was dispatched after so many tragedies in the Med. Among those rescued were 533 women and 179 children. All of the migrants brought on board are routinely searched and it fell on army Pvt Sonya Larrigan and LS Katie O'Leary - the only two females in the crew - to take care of them.
"On some boats you'd have 10 or 15 females and you have to go through them and kids so we're very busy," says LS O'Leary (27), from Bere Island, Co Cork.
Pvt Larrigan admitted she suffered some sea sickness when she joined the crew and "was a bit green" and nearly matched her uniform at one stage, she laughed.
Mr Coveney also gave the crew - including 46 from the rebel county - an account of Cork's loss in the Munster Hurling Champion- ship.