Naval vessel brings bodies of 14 migrants ashore
Over 450 migrants - and the bodies of another 14 who perished in the Mediterranean - have been brought ashore by the crew of the Irish naval vessel the LE Niamh.
The migrants, who were rescued off the coast of Libya earlier this week, arrived at the Sicilian port of Messina yesterday. It is expected that the Italian authorities will now begin an investigation into the deaths of the 14 migrants.
The bodies were found below the deck of an overcrowded wooden barge 80km off the Libyan coast at around 4.30pm on Monday. Around 500 migrants were crammed aboard the tiny vessel.
The crew of the LE Niamh began transferring the migrants from the barge to their ship.
Altogether 210 refugees - 137 men, 38 women and 35 children - were transferred to the LE Niamh while almost 300 more migrants were embarked on the MV DIGNITY 1, a vessel belonging to the charity Medécins Sans Frontières.
The Irish sailors then carried out an inspection below decks and made the grim discovery of 14 dead bodies.
An Irish Defence Forces spokesman said: "During searches of the barge the crew of the LE Niamh recovered 14 bodies from below the deck of the barge."
It is thought the barge left Tripoli in the early hours of Monday morning. The LE Niamh reached the port of Messina yesterday and 453 migrants - including another 243 men, women and children rescued during an earlier mission - all disembarked.
The LE Niamh has so far rescued 1,280 migrants as part of the international humanitarian mission. Medécins Sans Frontières said it was outraged about the discovery of the bodies.
Paula Farias, coordinator on the organisation's Dignity I vessel which assisted in the operation, said migrants with no other options should be helped to flee their countries.
"It is heartbreaking to see human lives lost at sea," she said.
"We not only need a large-scale search and rescue operation to stop this humanitarian crisis, but also need safe and legal channels to be created so that people fleeing their countries can find protection in Europe.
"What we see each and every day on the Mediterranean is that many people are left with no option but to risk their lives at sea."
Ms Farias said those rescued included migrants fleeing Morocco, Sudan, Palestine, Syria, Eritrea and Bangladesh.
The LE Niamh and its crew of 57 were deployed to the Mediterranean on July 10 to take part in the international mission to rescue migrants.