Saturday 16 December 2017

'The Italians will investigate, not us' - Irish Defence Forces on the fourteen bodies discovered by LÉ Niamh

The LE Niamh has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue migrants
The LE Niamh has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue migrants

David Kearns

The Irish Defence Forces will play no part in the investigation into fourteen bodies discovered on an overcrowded migrant barge in LÉ Niamh’s latest rescue mission.

The Defence Forces said the remains were lifted along with 210 surviving refugees from the wooden vessel around 80km (50 miles) off the Libyan coast.

There were 35 children among the rescued.

“We have to maintain care and control on board the ship, so we do not get involved in investigations - we leave these to the Italian authorities,” said Captain David Barry.

Speaking to RTE News At One, the Naval operations commander said all those taken from the ship yesterday afternoon would be interviewed by Italian police when LÉ Niamh lands in Sicily.

“We will provide the Italians with what basic information we can but we will play no further part into the investigation of these unfortunate deaths.”

Captain Barry said the crew of LÉ Niamh came across an ex-fishing vessel with more than 500 people on-board following an earlier rescue mission near Tripoli.

The doomed barge is believed to have left Libya in the early hours of yesterday morning, and was “grossly overcrowded … even by the standards of what is happening down there,” Captain Barry said.

“Those on-board told us that there were casualties down below and our people carried out a search of the vessel and, unfortunately, discovered 14 bodies.

“These people appeared to been on board for less than 24 hours, and where they were located on the ship we believe they died simply due to the over-crowding.

“We’re not medical experts but on the face of it, that does seem to have been the cause.”

The remains were late last night taken aboard the naval ship, before it set off towards the port of Messina in Sicily.

LÉ Niamh has so far rescued 1,280 migrants as part of the international humanitarian mission.

Captain Barry said the Defence Forces had been surprised so far by the numbers so far rescued by LÉ Niamh.

“We didn’t expect this level of migrants but really it depends on the weather, when its calm as it has been, they keep on coming,” he said.

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