Monday 14 October 2019

LÉ Eithne crew to get counselling for horrors of mission

Defence Minister Simon Coveney addresses the crew of the LÉ Niamh before they leave for the Mediterranean
Defence Minister Simon Coveney addresses the crew of the LÉ Niamh before they leave for the Mediterranean

Ralph Riegel

Counselling will be provided for the 69-strong crew of the LÉ Eithne to help them cope with the horrors of the refugee crisis they witnessed off the north African coast.

The revelation came as Defence Minister Simon Coveney wished the crew of the LÉ Niamh well, and the Naval Service patrol vessel departed Cork last night to replace the LÉ Eithne on station off Malta and Sicily in the Mediterranean.

Mr Coveney also confirmed that Ireland will provide a third vessel to replace the LÉ Niamh in helping with the Mediterranean migrant crisis from September.

The LÉ Eithne's crew has saved almost 3,500 refugees since May, almost 400 of whom were children.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella, in Cork to attend the SeaFest conference, paid tribute to the sterling work of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean.

Mr Vella, who is a Maltese politician, said the region owes Ireland and the LÉ Eithne a debt of gratitude.

"It is a very sad event that is happening in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, on the one part we have a criminal activity (people smugglers) which is taking advantage of a humanitarian crisis," he said.

"Having said that, the European Commission has started acting and is now moving from a crisis management (phase) into a strategic plan into how to manage migration, especially in the Mediterranean.

"But I think the whole Mediterranean appreciates Ireland's assistance in this, especially Malta, which was even given a vessel quite separately from the assistance on the migration issue."

However, the refugee rescue work has been exceptionally demanding - with the LÉ Eithne's crew having to wear sealed safety gear while dealing with the migrants despite working in heat of 40C plus.

Counselling and chaplain services have been provided throughout the mission, given that the crew has witnessed human misery at its most tragic.

Further counselling will now be provided for all crew members once the ship arrives back in Haulbowline Naval Base from next Friday.

The aim is to help crew avoid Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Mr Coveney said the crew had "done Ireland proud" in a deployment which had helped save over 3,500 lives.

He said Ireland remains committed to assisting the Italian and Maltese authorities in coping with the flood of refugees from north Africa.

"I think there will be (a third deployment," Mr Coveney said.

"We had intended to replace the LÉ Eithne with the LÉ Niamh and that the new vessel would stay in the Mediterranean for about 17 weeks.

"But I think now that is too long, having visited the LÉ Eithne in the Mediterranean.

"The impression we have got is that they have done a fantastic job but eight weeks of intensive work, particularly the kind of work that they have been doing, is probably enough.

"What you will probably see now is the LÉ Niamh will go on an eight-to-10-week deployment and then be replaced by another ship, possibly the LÉ Roisin."

The Naval Service will also be boosted from next Friday by the delivery and immediate commissioning of the €62m new patrol ship, LÉ James Joyce.

Irish Independent

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