Migrant crisis: Navy may extend stay in Med hints Minister

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney says LÉ Niamh may stay due to scale of refugee crisis

Minister Simon Coveney:  ‘You can expect quite a lot of people sank with the vessel which is really horrific to think about.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Minister Simon Coveney: ‘You can expect quite a lot of people sank with the vessel which is really horrific to think about.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

The LÉ Niamh may stay in the Mediterranean for longer than originally intended due to the scale of the refugee crisis, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has hinted.

Speaking after the rescue of 367 migrants by the ship’s crew on Wednesday, the Minister said that the plan to bring the patrol vessel home in September would be reviewed.

He said that he would discuss the issue with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Government colleagues next month. “We’ll look to be generous obviously,” he said.

Mr Coveney praised the crew for their professionalism during the “very traumatic and difficult rescue” operation and said he was anxious they would get the support they needed when they arrived in Palermo.

Setting out the scale of the tragedy, Mr Coveney said: “You can expect quite a lot of people sank with the vessel which is really horrific to think about.

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

Mr Coveney said the LÉ Niamh rescued the majority of the estimated 400 survivors.

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

“But it was traumatic; that you can imagine. 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.”

Tragedy

“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 need 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,” he said.

Refugees

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 700 people onto a boat”.

The LÉ Niamh with a crew of 68 personnel under the command of Commander Pearse O’Donnell left Cork for the Mediterranean in mid-May.