Simon Coveney praises professionalism of LÉ Niamh crew

Minister says ‘multi-faceted’ approach needed to defuse rolling Mediterranean crisis

The crew of Irish navy patrol ship LÉ Niamh have been praised for their professionalism during a "very traumatic and difficult rescue" of almost 400 migrants by Minister of Defence Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney said he was "anxious" the crew of the Irish Navy Service vessel would get the support they needed when the arrived at the port of Palermo.

He said the ship, which is carrying 367 survivors and 25 bodies including four children, was due to arrive at the port about 3pm on Thursday.

Mr Coveney said there was an estimated 700 people, more than 200 unaccounted for, on the 20m long boat that was “very old”.


“You can expect quite a lot of people sank with the vessel which is really horrific to think about,” he said.

“It’s a scene that I think will scar people for some time.”

Mr Coveney told RTÉ's Morning Ireland the LÉ Niamh rescued the majority of the estimated 400 survivors.

“This was a very difficult rescue exercise that the LÉ Niamh and its crew did as much as they possibly could have to try and save as many people as they could,” he said.

“But it was traumatic that you can imagine.

“Because the boat was so overloaded and the conditions were such the boat started taking on water lifted to one side capsized and sank, all in the space of two minutes.”

Mr Coveney said the LÉ Niamh was committed to being in the Mediterranean until September and would review the ship staying beyond that time with the Taoiseach and Government colleagues that month.

“We’ll look to be generous obviously,” he said.

Broader Solutions

Mr Coveney last night called for broader solutions to be found to tackle the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

Mr Coveney said a “multi-faceted approach” was needed.

“The desperate tragedy we have seen today is a reminder of the consequences of not putting a more complete solution in place,” he said.

"What we have been focusing on through the Irish Naval Service is search and rescue but we can't do that forever and really there needs to be bigger and broader solutions found... to tackle the migration crisis whereby so many people feel they have to leave the shores of north Africa to try and find a better life in the European Union. "

The European Union has been struggling to forge a united response to the migration crisis currently sweeping across the Middle East and north Africa as desperate migrants flee their homes for refuge in Europe. The crisis has reached the French port of Calais, where thousands of migrants in a makeshift camp have been seeking to get across to the UK.


Last month, the EU agreed to relocate more than 32,000 Syrian and Eritrean refugees who have already arrived in Italy and Greece across the European Union. This is in addition to a resettlement programme that will redistribute 20,000 refugees residing outside the EU across the bloc.

The Irish mission is being undertaken in co-operation with the Italian government, rather than as part of the EU’s Triton search-and-rescue initiative.

Mr Coveney said the tragedy had been facilitated by people traffickers and there was “really no excuse for piling seven hundred people onto a boat”.

“ It’s probably only able to carry 40 or 50 and so while of course we need to focus on search and rescue to try and recent the tragedies that happen today.

“ The EU is collectively looking at trying to tackle some of the very well organised and well funded people trafficking that is going on and leading to these kinds of tragedies.”

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is Digital Features Editor and journalist with The Irish Times