LE Eithne has saved almost 3,400 migrants in less than two months
The crew of the LE Eithne has saved a staggering 3,376 migrants desperately trying to reach Europe in less than two months of patrols in the Mediterranean.
Defence minister Simon Coveney this morning visited the Irish ship in Valetta, Malta and thanked them for their “invaluable” work over the course of 22 rescue missions.
Desperate migrants falling prey to people smugglers - who pack them into make-shift boats - have been trying to cross to Europe, fleeing wars and violence in places like Syria and Somalia.
It is estimated that at least 1,850 people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year alone.
More than 3,300 others are alive because of the tireless efforts of the crew of LE Eithne under the command of her captain, Cmdr Pearse O Donnell.
Mr Coveney was accompanied on his visit by justice minister Frances Fitzgerald and junior minister for development and trade, Sean Sherlock.
They boarded the ship at 6am, Valetta time, had breakfast on board the Irish flagship with the 69-strong crew, and Mr Coveney addressed the ship's company.
He said their efforts had “impacted significantly on the lives of so many people".
“The work of our Naval Service in the Mediterranean is invaluable,” he said, adding there will be a continuing Irish presence here for the coming months.
“LE Niamh will replace LE Eithne over the next week or so.
“Ireland’s focus will remain on continuing to assist the Italian authorities in the humanitarian search and rescue operation efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life at sea.”
Ms Fitzgerald said: “We are proud of them and the work they are doing under the Irish flag".
"Migration is one of the biggest challenges facing the EU and there are no easy answers.
“However Ireland is committed to doing its part in solidarity with our fellow Europeans in tackling that crisis,” she added.
“The heroic work of our Defence Forces in this exercise has been humbling," Mr Sherlock remarked.
The government has previously announced that it will take in 300 refugees who have made the Mediterranean crossing to countries like Italy and Greece.
The LE Eithne departed the Irish Naval Service base in Haulbowline, Cork for the Mediterranean on May 16.
The busiest 48 hours came on June 28/29 when the LE Eithne picked up 1,240 people from eight different vessels.
The UNHCR estimates that around 90,000 migrants have successfully crossed to Europe either in smugglers’ craft or being rescued by the ongoing rescue missions so far this year.