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Thursday 8 December 2016

Medic on first sea rescue mission in Med was 'shocked' by numbers in distress

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(second from right) Doctor Cummins on board the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta
(second from right) Doctor Cummins on board the LE Eithne after docking in Valetta, Malta

IT'S just past midnight in the Mediterranean Sea on May 29

Three hundred migrants are huddled together, crammed on to an old wooden barge attempting the desperate and perilous sea crossing from Africa to Europe. A short time earlier, the LE Eithne had been alerted to their plight by the Italian Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre and is now powering its way toward them.

Two rigid inflatable boats (Ribs) launch from the Irish flagship. One of those on board is the LE Eithne's doctor, Lead Medic Alan Cummins (35) from Bishopstown, Cork.

The crew are suited up in their white jumpsuits to protect them against disease.

Some of them are armed, ready for any security threat they may face.

LM Cummins, with 14 years experience in the navy, admits that the sight of the sheer numbers on board the barge shocked him.

"Obviously when you're seeing the women and children in a distressed state it's a bit nerve-racking," he said.

The Ribs approached from both sides so that the migrants wouldn't all rush to one side to catch the life jackets, as has happened before with tragic effect to the Irish mission.

"We just tried to calm the whole situation down when we got there, because we have to transfer the life jackets.

"We have to reiterate there are enough life jackets for everyone," Alan said.

"Once we calmed the situation, and told them what's happening, then obviously the women and children came first," he said.

It took four hours to transfer all of the migrants to safety on the deck of the LE Eithne where Alan and his team of three other medics set up a triage and examined all of them.

But there was to be no rest for the crew as the ship was dispatched to rescue a hundred more migrants at about 9am. Alan says of those early missions: "There were no guidelines. This was brand new to all of us".

But they were a massive success, thanks to the professionalism of a crew that would go on to rescue almost 3,400 people in over 22 individual rescues.

The ship left port last night and Alan - proud of that the ship has achieved - is looking forward to being back home with his girlfriend Claire Fitzgerald.

"It's very hard for us here to get a feel of what's going on at home," he said.

"Every time we ring home it seems to be all positive so it'll be nice to be on the other side of it getting the feedback," he said.

Alan and the rest of the crew can all expect a hero's welcome in Haulbowline.

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