LÉ ‘Niamh’ rescues 367 people after capsize in Mediterranean

Vessel en route to port of Palermo after 25 fatalities and at least 185 unaccounted for

Around 300 people are thought to have survived after a wooden boat, carrying around 600, capsized off the coast of Libya. Video: Médécins Sans Frontières

The Naval Service patrol ship LÉ Niamh is en route to the Sicilian port of Palermo carrying 367 survivors and 25 bodies recovered from a fishing vessel which capsized in the Mediterranean on Wednesday.

At least 185 people who were travelling on the fishing boat, understood to have had as many as 700 migrants on board, were unaccounted for last night and feared dead.

The incident occurred when two rigid inflatable boats (Ribs) from the LÉ Niamh were approaching the vessel some 100km northwest of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Federico Fossi said as many as 100 people might have been trapped below the fishing boat’s main deck when it capsized.


‘Horrific sight’

The Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF) boat

Dignity 1

, the Italian navy vessel


and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station assisted in the rescue. The Italian ship


sent a helicopter to drop additional liferafts.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said the fishing craft was neither stable nor capable of carrying the kind of numbers it had on board.

He described it as an “incredibly tragic day for migrants” who died and an “incredibly traumatic day for the Naval Service”.

“This is the complexity of what our Naval Service is involved in now,” he said.

Worsening conflicts in Syria, northern Africa and the Middle East have driven an increase in the number of migrants trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean since the start of the year.

More than 2,000 people have died this year while attempting to make the journey, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The Government offered assistance to the Italian government in handling the migrant crisis after more than 850 people died in one incident in April off the Libyan coast.

The LÉ Niamh had been tasked to assist the craft at 8am Irish time on Wednesday and arrived on scene at 11.45am.

Naval Service spokesman Capt Dave Barry said the two Ribs were approaching each side of the vessel and signalling people to remain seated until lifejackets could be distributed.

“Whatever happened, a number rushed to one side, and it capsized and sank in a couple of minutes,” he said.

The patrol ship launched its four liferafts, while the Rib crews distributed lifejackets to the hundreds of people in the water.

A total of 367 people – 342 men, 12 women and 13 children – were taken on board the LÉ Niamh and another 20 on board an MSF vessel. It also took the bodies of 25 people who drowned in the incident.

"It was a horrific sight; people were desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats and anything they could, fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning, and those who had already died," said MSF project coordinator Juan Matias, who is on board Dignity 1.

“The fact that we were first called to assist this boat and then shortly afterwards sent to another one highlights the severe lack of resources available for rescue operations.”

Dignity 1, which already had 94 people on board from a previous rescue, provided medical treatment to 10 people.

MSF said that five were in such severe condition that they needed to be evacuated by helicopter.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times