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Operation Irini

Irish naval ship tasked with enforcing Libyan arms blockade is ready to board smuggler vessels

The LÉ William Butler Yeats will depart from its base in Cork Harbour this weekend.

THE COMMANDER OF an Irish naval vessel en route to the Mediterranean to enforce a blockade on Libyan arms smugglers said his crew are prepared to board the smuggler’s vessels. 

Lieutenant Commander Alan Flynn and his more than 50 Irish sailors on board the LÉ William Butler Yeats will depart from their base on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour on Thursday. 

They will take part in the European naval arms embargo known as Operation Irini – which is an EU Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) mission.  

A small three member team of Irish Defence Forces personnel are already working in he mission headquarters Rome on the mission – drawn from the naval service and Air Corps. 

Recently, The Journal visited them and spoke to about their work which is centred around intelligence work and putting together operations to search ships.

The Yeats will take up a position in the sea off the east Libyan coast where, it’s captain said, it will carry out surveillance of shipping coming in and out of Libyan waters. 

It is the second such deployment of Irish naval vessels to the Mediterranean as the force previously were deployed on Operation Pontus tasked with rescuing migrants. 

“The previous mission deployed on Operation Pontus in 2015, was purely a humanitarian mission whereby now with Operation Irini, which is a EUNAVFOR med we are tasked primarily with enforcing the arms embargo on Libya – so it is very different. 

“Once we get down to the Mediterranean our task will be to surveil and gather intelligence on Merchant traffic flowing into and out of Libya. 

“Once we have a reasonable suspicion that a violation has occurring, we get the consent of the vessels concerned and their home nations as well and once we have that consent we can visit and board those vessels,” the naval officer said. 

Flynn explained that the Irish ship will be part of a much bigger operation with ships and aircraft from across Europe assisting them in their task. He said that his crew were looking forward to getting to work. 

“I feel we are in a good place in our preparations – our personnel have been well briefed and well trained – we are well equipped and motivated. We are a professional outfit and we take the tasks seriously and we have been well prepped over the recent months getting us ready for the deployment. 

“It is a multi-national operation with navies from around western Europe – plenty of other vessels and aircraft around us and working alongside us,” he added. 

The Yeats will have a crew of 58 onboard which includes 5 women.

While it will much of the crew’s first deployment it is also an experienced team with a number of them having deployed on the migrant rescue missions of Operation Pontus and Sophia. 

The three member team in Rome is drawn from the naval service and Irish Air Corps.

This includes a senior post, filled by Irish Navy officer Commander Frank O’Connor, who works in the command staff. 

Operation Irini has had a number of successes and has seized a large number of armed 

The Air Corps member is Captain Jason McDermott who works as an intelligence officer monitoring aircraft movements and Chief Petty Officer Jeremiah Foley is tasked with managing human resourcing.

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