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Thursday 8 December 2016

Crew of LE Eithne on terror alert while they carry out their mission

Ministers Simon Coveney, Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Sherlock with crew of the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta
Ministers Simon Coveney, Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Sherlock with crew of the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta
Ministers Simon Coveney, Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Sherlock with crew of the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta
Ministers Simon Coveney, Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Sherlock with crew of the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta

THE crew of the LE Eithne has been training for the threat of terrorists targeting the ship while on its humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean.

The Irish flagship has saved almost 3,400 lives since being deployed to save desperate migrants from drowning while attempting the sea crossing to Europe in makeshift boats.

Most of the crew's rescue operations have taken place off the coast of chaos-riven Libya where Islamic State have established a branch.

The terror group claimed responsibility for beheading or shooting 30 Ethiopian Christians in April.

READ MORE: Coveney doesn't rule out Ireland's participation on EU mission to capture smugglers

"We're always concerned first and foremost about the safety of our own people," Defence Minister Simon Coveney said on a visit to the LE Eithne in Valletta, Malta.

"There have been no instances that have resulted in our Naval Service being in any danger over the last number of weeks," he added.

However, the ship's crew has continued to train for the possibility of a terror attack.

READ MORE: Crew member's story: 'It affects me very much - especially the young kids'

Lt Shane Mulcahy gave a briefing on the LE Eithne's life-saving mission off the coast of north Africa.

On the question of security concerns coming from Libya he said: "We've had the Defence Forces working on that in the background at all times in terms of threat assessments, looking at what's going on and keeping us updated.

"At no point was the threat to us outside an acceptable level and again that's due to the fact that we have procedures in place to deal with various contingencies."

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He said that at no point has the LE Eithne entered Libya's territorial waters.

Asked about the possibility of combatants taking to speedboats and targeting the ship he said: "That's something that we prepare for.

"That's an evolution that the navy has procedures for regardless of this mission and yes it's something we would have practiced throughout this mission but to no further extent than we'd be practicing for it at home."

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday said that the Government may take as many as 600 migrants under an EU plan to resettle those who are rescued, twice the number previously indicated.

"I'd imagine that decision will be made before the end of July," she said, adding it would be a "once-off measure".

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She said the migrants would be accommodated in direct provision centres and would go though the usual asylum application process.

"What's presently under discussion of course is the relocation out of the 44,000 which is only a small proportion of the overall number," she said.

"The European Union is currently debating whether that will be mandatory or voluntary, and Ireland's proportion that we would be requested to take from that number is approximately 600.

"We immediately responded to Europe's request for resettlement in relation to Syrian and Eritrean (nationals) - we took our quota as it were which is 220 for this year," Minister Fitzgerald added.

"That's 520 Syrians and Eritreans over two years," she said.

She also praised the crew of the LE Eithne for saving thousands of lives.

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