LÉ Niamh to join migrant rescue mission in Mediterranean

Naval Service vessel will set sail to replace LÉ Eithne in humanitarian efforts in region

The LÉ ‘Niamh’ is sailing today to begin Mediterranean rescue duty. Photograph: Defence Forces/PA Wire

The LÉ ‘Niamh’ is sailing today to begin Mediterranean rescue duty. Photograph: Defence Forces/PA Wire

 

Naval Service vessel LÉ Niamh is due to sail from Cork harbour today for humanitarian search and rescue duty in the Mediterranean.

The patrol ship, under the command of Lieut Cdr Daniel Wall, is replacing the Eithne, which was deployed on the defence wing’s first humanitarian mission overseas almost two months ago.

The LÉ Eithne’s 69-strong crew, including two Army medical staff, rescued some 3,400 people of 21 nationalities from overcrowded vessels north of Libya over six weeks.

The Government took the decision to offer assistance to the Italian government after more than 850 people lost their lives in one incident last April 27km off the Libyan coast.

Minister for Defence and the Marine Simon Coveney, who flew with Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Minister of State for Development Seán Sherlock to meet the LÉ Eithne’s crew in Malta this week, said this decision had involved “some risk”.

“I don’t think anyone expected that the crew would be involved in rescuing nearly 3,400 people in less than a six-week period.”

The LÉ Eithne is due to leave Malta to return to Cork harbour today. Asked by journalists how much Operation Pontus, as it is known, was costing, Mr Coveney said he would give a figure at the end of the operation, and said any extension of the mission beyond September would be a matter for the Government.

Additional jobs

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney will host the third Ocean Wealth Conference in Cork harbour today when he publishes research which forecasts that the marine sector could create more than 29,000 additional jobs, with a further €2.7 billion in economic growth by 2020. “ Ireland is now firmly on what I believe is an unstoppable journey of marine expansion,” he said.

The conference will be followed tomorrow by a one-day festival which aims to be the marine sector’s version of the ploughing championships.

EU environment and maritime affairs commissioner Karmenu Vella is among keynote speakers. Mr Vella, who is on a three-day visit to Ireland, met Mr Coveney and seafood industry stakeholders yesterday at the Marine Institute in Galway.

Mr Coveney has also signed into law measures to manage scallop fishing in the Blacksod Bay special area of conservation (SAC) in Mayo.