LÉ Eithne saves 519 as EU plan to fight the traffickers takes shape
Irish naval vessel LÉ Eithne rescued 519 migrants from three separate boats off the coast of Libya yesterday.
Around 5.15am (local time), the Eithne rescued 104 migrants on an inflatable craft, 92km northwest of the Libyan capital city of Tripoli.
Immediately following the first rescue, the naval vessel assisted with the rescue of a further 362 migrants on a barge.
That rescue began at around 7.15am and took about three hours.
The ship was then involved in a third rescue of a further 53 migrants on a small fibreglass boat. The rescue began at around 11am and all migrants were on board by 12.40pm.
By afternoon there were 519 refugees on board - 401 males, 98 females and 20 minors and the vessel was waiting on further direction from the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre "for next tasking".
The Eithne has rescued 2,200 migrants since she was deployed to the Mediterranean. She will remain for six months, subject to the operational demands and requirements arising in the region.
Last month, the Eithne was told by Italian authorities to travel to Taranto Port in Italy to transfer another 399 migrants which the vessel had rescued.
They too had been taken from a number of vessels adrift 75km north of Libya.
Meanwhile, the first surveillance missions against people traffickers in the Mediterranean will be launched within days, it was confirmed yesterday.
Federica Mogherini, the EU's most senior diplomat, said European foreign ministers had given their unanimous backing to the first phase of a military operation against smuggling gangs in north Africa.
She said the targets of the operation "are those that are making money on [migrants] lives, and too often, their deaths".
The European Union launched a naval operation yesterday to try to stop the traffickers bringing migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe in unseaworthy boats.
More than 100,000 migrants have entered Europe so far this year, with some 2,000 dead or missing during their perilous quest to reach the continent.
Dozens of boats are launched from lawless Libya each week, with Italy and Greece bearing the brunt of the surge.
The naval operation, which was officially launched by EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, will operate in international waters and airspace until the EU can secure a UN Security Council resolution endorsing its effort, and permission from the Libyan authorities to enter their territory.
"We will start implementing the first phase of the operation in the coming days. This covers information-gathering and patrolling on the high seas to support the detection and monitoring of smuggling networks," the EU's foreign policy chief, Ms Mogherini, told reporters.
"The targets are not the migrants. The targets are those that are making money on their lives and too often on their deaths," she said.
The EU aims to "dismantle the business model" of the traffickers by destroying their boats.
But the UN has been slow to endorse the operation amid criticism from refugee groups that the move will only deprive migrants fleeing poverty and conflict of a major way to escape, rather than address the roots of the problem.
Libya's divided factions have also been reluctant to approve any operation in its waters or on land, which means that the transition to more robust phases of the naval mission could take months.