Monday 11 November 2019

Crew describe horrific scenes in sea tragedy

* LE Niamh crew describe chaotic scenes
* Men, women and children in sea
* Parents mourning children
* Survivors will receive bereavement counselling

A rescued child is carried off LE Niamh
A rescued child is carried off LE Niamh
A coffin containing the body of an unidentified migrant is carried off LE Niamh in Palermo
Survivor: saved by LE Niamh

Alan O'Keeffe

Horrific scenes of hundreds of migrants trying to survive the capsizing of their boat were recalled yesterday following the arrival of the Naval Service's LE Niamh into Palermo port.

Up to 200 people may have drowned and 399 were saved after the overcrowded boat overturned and sank in the Mediterranean on Wednesday.

The Irish naval vessel had already deployed boats to begin a routine transferring of passengers when the tragedy happened.

"Within a matter of 30 seconds, the vessel had gone down," said Commander Ken Minihane, the most senior officer on board the LE Niamh.

"The scene initially was quite chaotic. There were a lot of people in the water. But the crew of the LE Niamh dealt with the situation extremely well," he told RTÉ News.

Irish naval personnel undertook an emergency operation to save as many of the men, women and children as possible.

Lt Commander Daniel Wall deployed all available boats on board to assist in the mass rescue effort.

Naval staff threw large numbers of life-jackets into the water to give as many people as possible a chance of staying afloat, while efforts were made to pull several more to safety.

The scene of the capsizing and sinking of a migrant boat as seen from the deck of the Dignity I MSF search and rescue vessel which respnded to the emergency. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
The scene of the capsizing and sinking of a migrant boat as seen from the deck of the Dignity I MSF search and rescue vessel which respnded to the emergency. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
MSF Field coordinator Juan and first officer Porfirio follow the rescue operation involving ships and sea rescue helicopters scanning the area to spot survivors in the water 05 August. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
The MSF medical team on board the Dignity I search and rescue vessel provides first aid to a Bangladeshi man with an open fracture of his leg who was earlier rescued from the sea water after the boat he was in with other migrants capsized and sank in the Mediterranean 05 August. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
Mohamed (R) from Palestine rescued his one-year-old daughter Azeel when the boat he and his family were in with other migrants capsized in the Mediterranean 05 August.
Mohamed (2nd L) and his family receives support on board the MSF Dignity I search and rescue vessel after their wooden boat capsized and sank in the Mediterranean 05 August. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
A zodiac crew from MSF's Dignity I Search and Rescue vessel scan the sea for survivors in the area where a wooden boat carrying migrants capsized and sank earlier. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)
(Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF )
(Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF )
A man from Bangladesh stabilised by the MSF team onboard of Dignity I after being rescued at sea following the capsizing of the boat he was in waits to be transferred to Italy for further medical attention. (Photo: Marta Soszynska/MSF)

One seaman saved a child and then handed the child to the grateful parents. But the child lapsed into unconsciousness and he performed CPR until the child revived.

Read more: Mediterranean migrant crisis: Desperate moment rescued mother waits to see if unborn baby survived shock

"It was very upsetting yesterday to see a mother and father grieving for a very young child. Our personnel tried to resuscitate them but unfortunately there was nothing they could do," said Commander Minihane.

A Palestinian family spoke of how they shared one life jacket to survive. When the boat capsized, the father gave the life jacket to his wife, who could not swim. He then dived under water and saved their one-year-old daughter.

Boats operated by the Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) charity also had a number of boats deployed to help.

An eyewitness said: "The sea was filled with the dead and the drowning. Men, women and children."

It is believed a significant number of the migrants were unable to swim and a large number of them were believed to be refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.

The overcrowded wooden fishing boat had set out from Zuwarah in Libya, close to the Tunisian border

An MSF member who helped in the rescue said: "It was a horrific sight. People were desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats and anything they could, fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning and those who had already died."

At the port yesterday, Irish naval crews helped the survivors from the vessel onto the dockside and continued to offer them care and assistance. Some children were given gifts of colouring books.

The exhausted survivors were being cared for last night by the Red Cross and other agencies.

They had received medical care and psychological support on board the LE Niamh and MSF vessels during the overnight journey to the Sicilian port.

Read more: Migrants owed more than watery graves

Many will receive bereavement support after the traumatic loss of their loved ones.

Irish crew members were said to have performed effectively amid the frantic rescue operation despite witnessing traumatic scenes.

Six members of the crew of LE Niamh are trained in counselling people who had been through trauma. They were joined by two more personnel who flew from Ireland to offer extra support.

The migrants will be registered by the authorities and finger-printed for ongoing monitoring and processing within the migrant assistance schemes.

Many are expected to attempt to travel to other EU countries in the hope of seeking asylum.

Irish Independent

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