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LÉ Niamh leads search for survivors of capsized migrant boat as 25 confirmed dead

It’s believed that up to 600 people were on board the stricken vessel.

The LÉ Niamh
The LÉ Niamh
Image: DiCavo/Flickr

Updated at 7.30pm

A FISHING BOAT carrying hundreds of migrants has capsized off Libya’s coast with a “significant” loss of life expected.

Irish naval vessel the LÉ Niamh is currently involved in an ongoing rescue operation and the Defence Forces say that 367 people are now on board the vessel. Those rescued include 342 men, 12 women and 13 children.

The Italian Coast Guard says that 400 migrants have now been saved from a shipwreck.

Unfortunately, 25 bodies have now been recovered from the water with more expected later.

The LÉ Niamh was tasked to the rescue at 8 am Irish time by the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) estimated that 600 people were on board the stricken fishing vessel.

The LÉ Niamh arrived at the scene 110km north-west of Tripoli at 11.45 am and deployed two rhibs (rigid hull inflatable boats) either side of the vessel, however the vessel capsized.

The LÉ Niamh was joined at the scene by the Medécins Sans Frontiére ship Dignity One and a number of helicopters including Italian military aircraft.

What happened?

Italy’s coastguard said the boat ran into difficulty some 15 nautical miles off Libya and sent out a distress call, picked up by the coastguard station in Catania in Sicily.

Two vessels – the Medécins Sans Frontiére ship Dignity One and the Niamh – were immediately dispatched to the scene at 8am Irish-time, but the boat capsized after the migrants all rushed to one side in anticipation of being rescued.

Minster for Defence Simon Coveney has described the rescue operation as “very difficult”, adding that he believes a significant number of people have died.

“As the operation is currently ongoing, with all personnel fully engaged in the rescue, it is difficult to ascertain full details on the scale of the incident,” the minister said this afternoon.

However, I understand that the fishing vessel capsized and that the loss of life is likely to be significant. The crew of the Niamh are working flat out with their counterparts to rescue as many as possible.

Nawal Soufi, an Arabic-speaking Italian based in Sicily who is often contacted by migrants in distress, told AFP she had had a call earlier today about a boat in trouble with some 600 people on board.

“It is probably the same boat,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini said, raising fears that hundreds of people may have disappeared below the waves.

med Source: Google Maps

Migrant crisis

So far in 2015 more than 2,000 people have died in the Mediterranean attempting to make their way to Europe, according to figures released by the International Organisation for Migration.

The majority have died in the Channel of Sicily, on the Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy.

The organisation, which monitors migrant activity, said that around 188,000 individuals had been rescued in the sea so far this year.

“The numbers reportedly involved in the latest capsize off the Libyan coast show once again the extent of the crisis which is unfolding on Europe’s doorstep,” Brian Killoran, the CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland said in a statement.

The actions of the LÉ Niamh and her crew continue to bring pride to Ireland and are a token of the compassionate response people across Ireland want to this crisis.

coffin-5-390x285 Defence Forces members unload coffins containing the bodies of 14 migrants last week. Source: Defence Forces

The LÉ Niamh, which was dispatched to the Mediterranean a month ago, rescued 1,280 migrants from vessels off the North African coast before today’s operation.

She replaced another Defence Forces vessel, the Éithne, which arrived back into Cork on 18 July.

Last week, the crew of the Niamh recovered 14 bodies from a barge west of Tripoli in the course of another large-scale rescue effort.

With reporting from AP & AFP wires. Additional reporting Michael Shiels McNamee and Rónán Duffy.

Read: LÉ Eithne crew ‘not being paid properly’ for Mediterranean mission

Also: Ireland has just sent its second ship to the Mediterranean

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