Two Irish Naval ships to join Mediterranean migrant rescue

Ships will spend 16-week missions between Italy and Libya from April until year’s end

The LÉ Niamh. Between October and December last the Irish Naval ship  directly rescued 613 people and helped other ships to rescue 107 more

The LÉ Niamh. Between October and December last the Irish Naval ship directly rescued 613 people and helped other ships to rescue 107 more

 

The Government is expected on Tuesday to agree to send two Naval Service ships to the Mediterranean in an effort to help the European Union’s mission to rescue migrants and reduce people-smuggling .

If the Cabinet memo from Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe is approved, two Irish Naval ships will spend two separate, consecutive 16-week missions between Italy and Libya from April until year’s end.

The operation in the Mediterranean – Operation Sophia – began in April 2015. Known formally as the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean, it sought to disrupt Libyan-based people-smugglers.

Following the drownings of hundreds of refugee migrants after the sinking of unseaworthy boats and ribs, the mission’s scope was extended, including the rescue of migrants.

The Irish Naval Service first deployed in May 2015. Between then and November that year, Irish sailors rescued 8,592 people. However, Ireland was not formally part of the EU mission.

Instead it worked alongside 27 countries participating in the Rome-headquartered Operation Sophia through a bilateral arrangement with the Italian government, named Operation Pontus.

This semi-detached role kept Ireland at one remove from the mission’s command structure and direct access to information. Last July the Government decided Ireland should participate fully.

Join the mission

Following this, Operation Sophia’s commanding officer, Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino of the Italian Navy, recently requested that two Navel Service vessels join the mission.

Ten EU ships have been deployed at times. Currently there are only four from Italy, Germany, Spain and France; along with helicopters from Italy and Spain and fixed-wing aircraft from Luxembourg and Spain.

Decisions about which Naval Service vessels will be dispatched have not been made. They could be involved in rescue missions, but also help the Libyan coast guard prevent migrants leaving Libya.

The number of migrants risking the Mediterranean crossing has dropped. Between October and December last, LÉ Niamh directly rescued 613 people and helped other ships to rescue 107 more.