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Families overjoyed as naval heroes from LÉ Samuel Beckett return from Mediterranean

By Sean O’Riordan, Defence Correspondent

LÉ Samuel Beckett’s crew saved 106 migrants from drowning, revived an unresponsive baby, searched ships for suspected gun-running and, at night, watched gun battles rage on the shore between rival militias fighting for control of Libya.

Stories of their three-month deployment with the EU taskforce operating in the Mediterranean Sea emerged yesterday as the 54-strong crew returned home to joyful scenes and a reunion with their families.

The ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Eoin Smyth, said the EUNAVFOR-Med Operation Sophia mission was now more focused on “breaking up the business model used by people-smugglers”.

Its meant the LÉ Samuel Beckett was used by the EU taskforce to gather intelligence and to search ships suspected of defying an UN embargo on supplying arms into Libya and smuggling oil out of it.

The UN Migration Agency recently reported migrant arrivals in Italy had reduced by 78% from 2017.

While there were fewer migrants making the perilous crossing from Libya to southern Europe, the crew carried out one rescue mission on July 5/6.

“It was 90 miles north of Tripoli, which was unusual. They were from South Sudan and were crammed like sardines in a rubber boat,” said Lieut Comdr Smyth.

[quote]“Among them were two women, one of whom was pregnant. There was also a six-month-old baby who was unresponsive. The paramedic did a fantastic job.”[/quote]

The paramedic in question was Sgt Finola Lafferty who explained the baby boy ‘Litha’ had been given medication by its mother to make him sleep on the journey.

“Thankfully he responded really well to treatment,” she said.

The captain’s daughter, Erin, turned 18 last week and joked that if dad didn’t have some nice presents for her then he could get back on the ship.

Lt Jason O’Brien, Ballincollig, with his son Diarmuid, 3, on his return from duties in the Mediterranean. Pictures: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Meanwhile, leading hull artificer David O’Gorman was also at sea when his daughter, Aoibhinn, celebrated her sixth birthday. After hugs and kisses, she started to get the first of her presents from dad, proudly displaying a bracelet.

David said the mission was a far different experience from his previous outing to the Mediterranean. “I was on the very first ship out there in 2015. I was on LÉ Eithne and we had rescued 3,447 migrants,” he added.

Charlene O’Flynn was waiting at the quayside with her two children to welcome back her husband Podge, who is a Petty Officer chef.

She said he seemed to be away a very long time Ryan, 6, and Katelyn, 10, really missed him.

“We’ll go out for dinner and get daddy used to us again,” said Charlene, who hails from Clondulane, near Fermoy.

Nine-month-old Ethan Henson stole the show in his sailor suit as he and his brother, Nathan, 7, waited to greet his father, Colin.

Nathan Henson, 7, and his brother Ethan, aged nine months, await the return of their father Colin aboard the LÉ Samuel Beckett.

“The first month he was away was very tough for us. But I got plenty of support from the family,” explained their mother, Nuala. They had travelled from their home in Athlone.

When Petty Officer Kevin Kinsella walked down the gangplank he was greeted by his father and brother. His father served 40 years, retiring at the same rank and his brother, Gordon, is a Chief Petty Officer, who has served for 25 years.

“I would have loved to have been on the type of mission Kevin was on,” Paddy said. “However, I was involved in resupplying UN missions in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s.”

The ship has been replaced on the mission by LÉ James Joyce.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner