Irish rescue ship brings 367 survivors to Italy after boat capsizes

Man saves wife and drowning baby after trafficker’s vessel capsizes north of Tripoli

The fishing vessel with an estimated 600 immigrants aboard shortly before it capsized, leading to many deaths. Photograph: Irish Defence Forces

The fishing vessel with an estimated 600 immigrants aboard shortly before it capsized, leading to many deaths. Photograph: Irish Defence Forces


A man who saved his wife by giving her his life jacket, and then dived below the surface to grab their baby as she disappeared, was among the survivors when a migrant trafficker’s vessel capsized in the Mediterranean.

The Palestinian family arrived in Palermo, Sicily, yesterday on one of the rescue vessels which picked up survivors when their overcrowded 20m boatvessel overturned 110km northwest of Tripoli.

The Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Niamh, which played a major role in the rescue, brought 367 survivors into Palermo.

It is feared as many as 200 migrants may have drowned in the tragedy which happened as two rigid inflatable boats (Ribs) from the LÉ Niamh were approaching the fishing boat on which the migrants were hoping to reach Europe from Libya.

Their vessel flipped over, probably because desperate passengers surged to one side when they spotted the LÉ Niamh on its way to help them.

The Italian navy, which had two ships in the rescue operation, said three survivors were flown by helicopter for medical treatment aboard the Medecins Sans Frontiers ship, Dignity 1.


Dignity 1

“All in all, there were no more than 50 people” in the water, Mr Gil said. “There were some bodies floating, so it was quite a shocking scene.”

Video made aboard Dignity 1 and released by the organisation showed the Palestinian family. The mother caressed the hand of her daughter Azeel, little more than one year old, as the father, Mohammed, sat next to them.

“They all went into the water, with only one life jacket,” Mr Gil said. “So this life jacket was with the father, who gave the life jacket to his wife, because she didn’t know how to swim. After that he saw that the baby was getting deep in the water” and in danger of drowning.

“After he came out with the baby, they were seen, they were rescued and they were brought aboard” Dignity 1, Mr Gil said.

Initial reports put about 700 passengers on the fishing boat but interviews with survivors – mostly Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war – reduced that estimate.

Several Syrians were among those rescued, including a pregnant woman who at first appeared in danger of miscarriage.

The LÉ Niamh brought 342 men, 12 women and 13 children into Palermo. It also brought 25 bodies taken from the water.

In a statement, the Defence Forces said: “Yesterday at 8am Irish time, the LÉ Niamh was tasked by the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre to come to the assistance of a fishing vessel 110km north-west of Tripoli with an estimated 600 persons on board. The LÉ Niamh arrived on scene at 11.45am and deployed two rhibs (rigid hull inflatable boats) either side of the vessel as per standard operating procedure, however the vessel capsized. The LÉ Niamh immediately deployed all available assets including rhibs and life rafts.”

The LÉ Niamh has rescued 1,647 migrants since it was deployed nearly a month ago.