ALMOST 1,000 teddy bears have been gathered by naval vessel personnel in the past week for children who will be rescued by the LE Eithne in the Mediterranean next month.
The crew of the vessel are preparing for a deployment to the Mediterranean from May 1. And crew members have been busy organising donations of teddy bears for children who will be rescued on their way from north Africa to Europe by the LE Eithne.
One of the crew, John Buckley, put out a Facebook plea for teddy bears and children’s clothes last Tuesday. Since then, teddy bears have been donated by people all over the country and are being gathered at army barracks and at Baldonnel aerodrome for the mission.
He said: “When the children we rescue come on board, they are very agitated as they have never seen anything like it before. We give them a change of clothes and a teddy bear – something they can squeeze onto. A teddy bear is only a small thing but to see the expression changing lightens the atmosphere.” The LE Eithne was the first Irish vessel deployed to the area as part of Operation Pontus and did a three-month stint there in 2015. During that mission, the crew rescued more than 3,300 migrants from the Mediterranean on their way from north Africa to Europe. Around half of the 72-member crew served on the previous mission. They will be led on this occasion by Commander Brian Fitzgerald. In recent weeks, they were involved in the search operation off the Mayo coast for the crew of R116.
During the Mediterranean deployments, the Irish navy assists the Italian authorities in the humanitarian operation to rescue migrants from the waters between Libya and Sicily. Since May 2015, the Irish crews have been involved in the rescue of 15,000 migrants.
The last Irish vessel to take part in the Mediterranean humanitarian operation was the LE Samuel Beckett which arrived back to Haulbowline naval base in December. Their mission was captured on a recent RTÉ documentary called The Crossing.
Earlier this month, an agreement was reached between PDFORRA and the government about a €15-per-day payment for personnel who have served in the Mediterranean. They payment will be tax-free and will be in addition to the standard daily allowance of €55.
The LE Eithne is being replaced by the LE George Bernard Shaw next year. The new ship is being built at present in the UK.