Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Naval Service Operations
28. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will report on the ongoing operations of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean Sea; when the LE James Joyce will finish its current tour of duty; and if it will be replaced by a new ship and crew. [27134/16]
48. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of refugees who have been rescued by the Defence Forces in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of the humanitarian mission in the region; the length of time he envisages this humanitarian mission will go on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27102/16]
The operations of the Naval Service obviously have quite an effect in the Mediterranean Sea. Its deployment in the Mediterranean Sea is due to come to an end quite soon and perhaps the Minister of State will indicate if he is considering extending the current deployment or swapping the current ship with another one.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 48 together.
LE James Joycewas deployed on 8 July 2016 to assist the Italian authorities in the continuing search and rescue humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean Sea. Since deployment, LE James Joycehas conducted a number of search and rescue operations which, to date, has led to the rescue of 2,678 migrants from unseaworthy craft. LE James Joycehas recovered 21 deceased migrants which again highlights the bleak circumstances in which many migrants find themselves. LE James Joyceis scheduled to return to Ireland on the 30 September 2016.
On 23 September 2016, LE Samuel Beckettdeparted Haulbowline, with a crew of approximately 60, to replace LE James Joyceon the mission in the Mediterranean Sea. It is anticipated that LE Samuel Beckettwill be deployed until the end of November 2016.
To date, Irish participation in the humanitarian mission has resulted in the recovery of more than 12,500 migrants, which clearly demonstrates the value of Ireland’s involvement in this important humanitarian response.
The question of further deployment to the operation in the Mediterranean Sea in 2017 will be considered in the context of the ongoing situation in the Mediterranean Sea and the overall EU response thereto, the demands on the Defence Forces, our overseas commitments and available resources.
The House needs to congratulate the Naval Service not only for the deployment of LE James Joyce but for all the work it has done in the Mediterranean Sea since it was first deployed and for the many lives it has saved. It must be tremendously difficult for many of those on board to see what they see virtually on a daily basis in the Mediterranean Sea. I welcome the news that theLE Samuel Beckettis to replace the LE James Joyceon the humanitarian mission. It is hugely valuable work, the results of which are seen on our television screens.
We also need to consider whether there is an increase in the number of boats trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea given the recent deal between the EU and Turkey. Perhaps the Minister of State could indicate if there has been a noticeable increase in rescues in recent weeks in the Mediterranean Sea.
I, too, would like to congratulate all members of the Naval Service for their work since the first deployment. I had the privilege of visiting the crew members of the LE James Joycelast month to witness at first hand the work they carry out on an ongoing basis. The Deputy spoke about the very difficult situations faced by the Naval Service. The week before my visit to the LE James Joyce, the crew had brought on board 16 bodies recovered from under a wooden vessel. There had been women and children on board the vessel and some had lost their lives. It is very difficult for some members of our Naval Service when they come across situations like that. I applaud them for their work.
The reason for the drop in the number of boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea was due to severe weather conditions but over the last month or six weeks, there has been quite a steady flow of migrants crossing in rubber or wooden vessels.