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LÉ Niamh arrives in Sicily carrying 367 people saved by the Irish crew

The bodies of 25 people, including four children, are also on board.

Updated at 4.25 pm

palermo 1 The scene in Palermo affter the arrival of the LÉ Niamh. Source: Sky News

THE LÉ NIAMH has arrived in Sicily carrying the 367 people saved by the Irish crew along with the bodies of 25 migrants who died attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

The stricken fishing boat is believed to have been carrying over 600 migrants meaning that over 200 people are feared drowned in the tragedy.

The Irish Naval vessel arrived at port in Palermo at about 3pm Irish time.

The LE Niamh was first called to the scene 15 nautical miles off Libya at about 8am yesterday and now, 31 hours later, it has safely brought 367 people to Italian soil.

The migrants will be taken to reception centres in Northern Italy where they will be processed for asylum.

The Defence Forces say that they will be continuing follow up tasks in coming hours and days with the LÉ Niamh passing on all available information on yesterday’s incident to the Italian Authorities.

The overcrowded fishing boat capsized and sent out a distress call which was picked up by the coastguard in Sicily. The LÉ Niamh was tasked to the operation along with the Medécins Sans Frontiére ship, Dignity One.

Italian coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini said around 400 people had been rescued from the water while 25 bodies had been recovered.

Speaking this morning, Defence Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that 342 of the migrants on board the Irish ship are men, 12 are women and 13 are children.

Four of the bodies being carried on board the vessel are those of children.

“These vessels are very old in some cases and the holds that would previously have carried fish boxes and so on would have had people crammed into them,” Coveney said

“Sometimes those people would have been under decks – so when this vessel capsized and sank tragically in a very short period of time I think you can expect that quite a number of people sank with the vessel.”

Six other people, including a baby no more than a year old and a survivor with a broken leg, were taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa, Federico Fossi, spokesman in Italy for the UN refugee agency, told AFP.

While the sea was very calm, “the boat overturned and sank quickly because it was made of metal,” Fossi added.

PastedImage-17607 Some of the men on board the LÉ Niamh. Source: Flickr/DFA

The agency’s chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said on Twitter that “100 (migrants) were in the hull” of the fishing vessel when it capsized.

Will Turner of Medecins Sans Frontier told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland it is not known how many people left on the boat from Libya.

PastedImage-63128 A picture of the capsized fishing vessel taken by the Irish Defence Forces. Source: Flickr/DFA

“We do know people will be packed on top of the boat, down in the bellies of the boat, packed in like Coke cans,” he said.

Yesterday was a horrible reminder of the dangers of this journey and the horrible reminder of how Europe and its members states is not adequately responding to this crisis.

He said people know the dangers of these journeys but the “feel they have no choice”.

Seven ships, several helicopters and a drone were helping search for survivors.

More than 2,000 people have already died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year.

- with reporting by Michelle Hennessy and © AFP 2015.

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

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

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Rónán Duffy

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