LÉ Niamh arrives in Sicily after rescue of 329 refugees and migrants

Irish patrol ship rescues 317 men, 11 women and one child from Mediterranean

The Naval Service patrol ship LÉ Niamh arrived at the port of Pozzallo in Sicily at 8.15am on Sunday with 329 refugees and migrants on board after carrying out a rescue operation in the Mediterranean on Saturday.

The LÉ Niamh successfully rescued 317 men, 11 women and one child about 58km north of Tripoli in Libya on Saturday after it was tasked by the Italian Marine Rescue Coordination Centre to investigate the sighting of three vessels.

The rescue operation, which was carried out in coordination with the SeaWatch vessel, began at about 9.50am (Irish time) on Saturday in the Mediterranean. SeaWatch had already distributed life-jackets to people on board one of the vessels when the Irish patrol ship arrived at the scene.

After assessing the situation the LÉ Niamh on scene coordinator deployed inflatable boats to take the refugees and migrants on board. A short time later refugees and migrants on board two other vessels located nearby were rescued.


The LÉ Niamh completed the rescue at 4pm on Saturday.

The Irish patrol ship had been on patrol in the Mediterranean since early on Friday morning when it received the emergency call on Saturday.

The Irish Naval Service announced last week it would extend its involvement in humanitarian search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

Ireland's involvement in the European Union's Triton search and rescue initiative began last May with the deployment of the LÉ Eithne which was replaced by the LÉ Niamh in July.

Irish patrol ships LÉ Niamh and LÉ Eithne have rescued a total of 6,720 refugees and migrants from the Mediterranean since the initiative began in the spring.

Under the new plans, the LÉ Samuel Beckett will take over operations in the Mediterranean from the end of September, when the LÉ Niamh is due to finish its mission, until November 30th.

A number of Irish non-governmental organisations joined together on Friday to sign a letter calling on the Irish Government to provide "a clear statement of leadership" on the refugee crisis ahead of the EU foreign affairs council meeting on September 7th.

"Without compassionate and courageous action and leadership, more lives will be lost, more families will be destroyed and the bodies of more children will wash up on European shore," wrote the letter, signed by NGOs including Trócaire, Peter McVerry Trust, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, Oxfam Ireland, Dóchas, Conference of Religious in Ireland, Christian Aid Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council.

The signatories demanded that the Government recall the Dáil immediately to agree on a “firm plan of action on how Ireland intends to respond to the needs of refugees seeking protection in Europe” ahead of the EU justice and home affairs meeting on September 14th.

They also called for the Government to “significantly increase” the numbers of people seeking asylum arriving into Ireland.

"Accelerate the processes of relocation and resettlement, and expand legal channels of migration including family reunification in Ireland and across the European Union. "

The letter asked the Government to suspend the return mechanism in the so-called Dublin Regulation which allows EU states to send migrants back to the first member country that they entered.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast