Irish Naval ship set for North Africa to police Libyan arms embargo

First international naval deployment since 2018 when State vessels participated in Mediterranean rescue missions

The Government is expected to approve plans to send an Irish Naval ship to the waters off North Africa to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya.

The contribution to Operation Irini is expected to take place in June and last seven weeks, The Irish Times has learned. It will be the first operational overseas deployment of a Naval ship since 2018 when vessels took part in Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean, and only the third such mission in Naval Service history.

Military management hopes resumption of overseas naval deployments will help address the recruitment and retention crisis affecting the Defence Forces and Naval Service in particular.

‘Operation Irini’

Plans have been represented to Government for approval and sources said a positive decision is expected in the near future. The Department of Defence declined to comment on the move except to say “no decision has been made for Ireland to deploy assets to Operation Irini”.


As well as enforcing the UN arms embargo, the ship will be responsible for disrupting human trafficking and illegal exports of oil from Libya. Operation Irini is also responsible for training the Libyan Coast Guard to carry out these tasks.

The arms embargo was introduced by the UN in 2020 in order to preserve peace in Libya after the end of the second Libyan civil war.

Last month, while on a personal trip to Rome, Italy, Ireland’s top defence official and secretary general of the Department of Defence, Jacqui McCrum, visited operation Irini headquarters where the possibility of sending an Irish vessel was discussed.

Three Naval Service and Air Corps personnel are seconded to Irini headquarters in Rome where they carry out monitoring and administrative duties. However, Ireland has never deployed a ship or aircraft to the mission. While 24 countries have personnel seconded to the mission headquarters, only Greece, Italy and France have ships deployed.

It is unclear what ship the Naval Service will send. Its options are limited; in the last three years, the fleet has reduced in size from nine to four ships due to a lack of available crews and age of the vessels.

It will shortly take possession of two refurbished inshore patrol vessels but these are likely to be unsuitable for missions on the high seas. The Government formally accepted ownership of the vessels this week ahead of delivery from New Zealand.

Migrants crossing

The Naval Service is also facing considerable manpower shortages in all areas of operations. It has 794 members out of an establishment of 1,094.

Irish Naval ships first took part in an international mission in 2015 when it took part in Operation Pontus, a bilateral search and rescue mission carried out with Italy, for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

This was followed in 2017 and 2018 by deployments with Operation Sophia, a similar EU mission which operated on a larger scale. Irish crews helped rescue more than 18,000 migrants over the course of their participation.

Operation Sophia was stood down in 2019 in part due to disagreements over where migrants should be landed after their rescue. Operation Irini is considered its successor mission.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times