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Navy ship returns after policing mission off North Africa

Young Offenders star Chris Walley proudly gave his brother the thumbs up after a successful Naval Service mission to tackle arms smuggling and people trafficking off the North African coast.

The award-winning actor was at Haulbowline naval base in Cork with dozens of other Naval Service family members to welcome home the crew of the patrol ship L.É. William Butler Yeats from its six week deployment to the Mediterranean as part of Ireland’s commitment to the EUNAVFOR-MED Operation Irini.

Mr Walley’s brother, Main Engineering Officer Tim Walley, served on L.É. William Butler Yeats and was one of 58 officers and ratings to safely return to Ireland on Sunday.

Government and Naval Service officials paid tribute to the accomplishments of the Irish personnel as part of the EU commitment to cracking down on criminal gangs who have been operating off the North African coast.

A key focus of the mission was to police waters off North Africa which have become a haven for criminal gangs involved in both people smuggling and the illegal arms trade.

The Irish vessel also conducted patrols to ensure illegal oil shipments were not being undertaken from Libya amid fears such smuggling is being used to fund paramilitary groups in the North African country.

International groups are committed to promoting stability in Libya and supporting its power-sharing Government.

During its six week deployment, the vessel provided information, surveillance, reconnaissance and support operations via its Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB).

The patrol vessel, the second youngest in the Irish fleet after being commissioned in 2016, is an expanded development of the L.É. Niamh design.

Operation Irini follows previous Naval Service deployments as part of UN/EU humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean including Operations Pontus between 2015-2017 and Sophia in 2018.

During Operation Pontus, L.É. William Butler Yeats deployed to the Mediterranean between July and October 2017, rescuing 704 persons and recovering the bodies of three deceased.

The latest deployment involved a crew of 58 including five female crew.

It was the first such deployment for more than half the crew of L.É. William Butler Yeats.

The ship is heavily armed and features a 76mm OTO Melara main gun, two 20mm RH 202 Rheinmetall cannon, two 12.7mm Browning heavy machine guns and four 7.62mm general purpose machine guns.

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán Clancy said everyone was very proud of how L.É. William Butler Yeats fulfilled its mission.

“This deployment was crucial to the regeneration of Ireland’s navy and is directly linked to our efforts to recruit, retain and incentivise seagoing.”

Naval Service Flag Officer Commodore Michael Malone said such missions were vital to Ireland’s maritime capabilities.

“With ambitions for the expansion of the Naval Service as outlined in the Commission on the Defence Forces report, this deployment presents an opportunity to build on the experiences gained through previous maritime overseas missions,” he said.

“Our sailors bring vital experience to bear in what remains a dynamic operational role.”

The EU-led Operation Irini is headquartered in Rome where a small Defence Forces administrative team was deployed for several weeks before the patrol ship began its work.

Operation Irini, which was launched in 2020, has largely been undertaken by navy and air units from France, Greece, Italy, Germany and Portugal.

Source: independent.ie