Irish flagship LE ‘Eithne’ to provide aid in Mediterranean
LE ‘Eithne’ leaves Cork today equipped to rescue up to 400 people at a time
The LE ‘Eithne’ will take one week to reach the Mediterranean and will be on station for eight weeks before returning to Ireland
Naval Service flagship LE Eithne left Cork harbour for the Mediterranean today on the State’s first humanitarian mission in international waters.
The mission is being undertaken in co-operation with the Italian government, rather than as part of the EU’s Triton search-and-rescue initiative, the Minister for Defence, Simon, Coveney told The Irish Times.
Mr Coveney, who met the LE Eithne crew with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Haulbowline before departure, said that the mission might be extended until the end of September.
The flagship, under the command of Cdr Pearse O’Donnell, will take one week to reach the Mediterranean and will be on station for eight weeks before returning to Ireland.
It is expected that a replacement vessel will be deployed by then, he said.
“Unfortunately this is a response to a problem that is likely to get worse given the large numbers of people risking their lives in often unseaworthy vessels, some similar to coffin ships,” Mr Coveney said.
“Both the Taoiseach and I are anxious to do something that is very practical and very real,” he said, referring to the large numbers of fatalities that had already occurred in the Mediterranean.
“This is the first Naval Service mission abroad in a humanitarian/ peacekeeping capacity, and one that will make a positive contribution,” he said.
Mr Coveney said the humanitarian nature of the mission did not require the “triple lock” approval of the Government, Dáil and United Nations, and the agreement to partner with the Italian government had been confirmed yesterday.
The LE Eithne has been equipped to rescue up to 400 people at a time, and to provide them with food, blankets, water and basic medical assistance.
Paramedics on the crew will be assisted by two staff from the Army Medical Corps.
The ship will be within 12- to 18-hour transit distance from port at any one time, and this will be determined by the Italian authorities.
The ship has procedures to “separate criminal elements”, for example alleged traffickers, according to Naval Service sources.
Mr Kenny and Mr Coveney were accompanied at the Naval Base in Haulbowline this morning by Defence Forces deputy chief-of-staff Rear Admiral Mark Mellett and Capt David Barry, officer commanding Naval operations command.