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Mediterranean migrant crisis: Irish Naval chief says scale of tragedy 'unprecedented'

The Irish Naval Service was involved in three separate rescue missions off the Libyan coast on Monday Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption The Irish Naval Service was involved in three separate rescue missions off the Libyan coast on Monday

An Irish naval commander who has helped to rescue hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea has said the scale of the human tragedy is "unprecedented".

Lieutenant Commander Eric Timon is in charge of Irish Naval Service vessel, LÉ Eithne, which rescued more than 500 people off the Libyan coast on Monday.

The LÉ Eithne was deployed to assist in the humanitarian rescue operation on 16 May and to date, has helped to save more than 2,000 migrants from the sea.

Mr Timon said it has been "relentless".

"The numbers of people fleeing Africa for whatever reason... casting themselves adrift on unseaworthy vessels in the hope of rescue or the hope of reaching European shores, it's quite extraordinary," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption Twenty children, including babies, were among the 519 migrants rescued from the three boats on Monday
Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption Many of the migrants have spent days at sea without water and are in very poor health when rescue boats reach them

He described how the LÉ Eithne responded to the latest distress call on Monday morning from "an inflatable craft approximately 50 miles north-west of the coast of Libya".

"Little did the ship's company know that there was going to be a further two distress calls and seven hours later they had rescued over 500 people, including 20 children."

Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption The migrants were transferred from their sinking boats to the safety of LÉ Eithne

In a statement, the Irish Naval Service said the LÉ Eithne rescued 104 migrants from the inflatable craft at 05:16 on Monday and was immediately re-tasked to rescue a further 362 people from a barge 50 nautical miles north-west of Tripoli.

Within 45 minutes of the barge rescue, the crew saved 53 migrants from a small fibreglass boat.

Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption Lieutenant Commander Eric Timon said crews worked hard to ensure there was no panic during rescue missions
Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption The Irish Naval Service has rescued more than 2,000 people since its deployment to the Mediterranean on 16 May

Mr Timon said it was very dangerous situation for the migrants.

"First of all, these vessels are sinking, that's the number one thing, so these people are quite scared. So we need to reassure these people, first of all, that they are going to be saved and not to panic, and to control that is very important."

He added many migrants were in poor health, after days at sea without supplies.

"Many of these people have never seen the ocean, let alone been cast adrift on it. So they have sea-sickness, which has a dehydrating effect, which is also compounded by the hot sun in the Mediterranean."

"As soon as we get them on board the ship, they're medically screened by our staff on board and they're given additional medical attention if necessary."

Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption The migrants are given water, food and medical attention when they board the LÉ Eithne

The migrants are then given water, food and clothing before being taken to a port of refuge.

"We've come across other vessels where we've literally given them water and that's the first water they've seen for days" Mr Timon said.

The LÉ Eithne is expected to be deployed in the Mediterranean for a six-month period.

Image copyright Irish Defence Forces
Image caption The migrants are transferred onto the LÉ Eithne and then taken to a port of refuge

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