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Our sailors follow epic Crean route

AN Irish Navy ship is set to retrace Kerryman Tom Crean's epic journey to the Antarctic.

The LE Niamh will visit the Chilean port of Puente Arenas in the Magellan Strait near Cape Horn on June 1 -- the port from which Ernest Shackleton set sail to rescue his stranded crew following an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Antarctic in his 1914-16 expedition.

Petty Officer Tom Crean from Annascaul played a leading role in the expedition, which included a heroic voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia in search of help.

The LE Niamh, the newest ship in the Naval Service, will be the first Irish Naval Service ship to sail so far south.

Puente Arenas will be just one of the stops the Niamh's crew will make in Latin America during a 10-week mission to boost trade and diplomatic links, as well as joining in 200th anniversary celebrations.

The ship left Ireland yesterday en route to Tenerife for a refuelling stop. It is due to reach Rio De Janeiro in Brazil on May 15.

Sailors will help support the Irish sponsorship of a children's project in Sao Goncalo by using their technical expertise "and considerable muscle" to help in building, as well as giving toys, clothes and books donated from Ireland.

The LE Niamh, whose captain is Lt Com Ken Minehane, will then sail with its crew of 47 men and women, to Buenos Aires in Argentina to celebrate the 200th anniversary of independence.

The Irish ship has been given pride of place in a flotilla of naval ships from other nations -- "indicative of the high esteem in which Ireland and her small navy is held by Argentina", a Defence Forces spokesman said.

The Navy will use the opportunity to re-establish its ties with the Admiral Brown primary school on the River Plate. In 2006, the crew of the LE Eithne installed a donated generator in the school.

The Niamh will then sail through the Magellan Straits into the Pacific, docking in Valparaiso in Chile on June 7. The Niamh will become the first Irish naval ship to transit through the Panama Canal on June 17, heading back into the Atlantic Ocean.

It then sails to Veracruz on the Mexican Gulf coast on June 22, followed by a visit to Miami in Florida, arriving on July 1, its final port of call.