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