THE captain of a British survey ship that saved thousands of men, women and children from the Mediterranean has called the remarkable deployment a first for the Royal Navy.
Commander Mark Vartan, who commanded HMS Enterprise for more than two years during the peak of the migrant crisis, said he was extremely proud of his team’s bravery during the humanitarian mission.
Over the 17 months the ship assisted the EU, she rescued 9,118 individuals from a number of un-seaworthy boats carrying from as little as five and as many as 639 passengers.
The 70-strong crew worked for up to 15 hours a day to receive, register, feed and transport the ‘distressed’ people they rescued.
Earlier this year the team’s efforts were acknowledged when the ship was nominated for the Hero overseas (unit) category in The Sun’s annual military awards, the Millies.
Commander Vartan, 47, said he was very proud of HMS Enterprise’s ‘team effort’ to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
I’m extremely proud, very, very privileged to have been in that position commanding the team that has delivered so much more than the ships were originally designed forCommander Mark Vartan
He said: ‘It is a European Union doorstep that they are coming across so we are fully committed to deliver that mission. At the end of the day it is life-saving.
‘The delivery of what we have achieved is a first for the Royal Navy, it is a first for HMS Enterprise, and that has been recognised by the Firmin sword of peace for humanitarian operations that we received.
‘So, (I’m) extremely proud, very, very privileged to have been in that position commanding the team that has delivered so much more than the ships were originally designed for, and our training has us able to deliver that.’
In July 2015 the Devonport-based ship was drafted in to assist the EU’s Operation Sophia to combat the illegal migration of people across the Mediterranean and start taking apart smuggling networks, but this soon became inseparable from their duty to rescue those in danger.
Among the other ships to support the operation at this time included Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Richmond.
Between, they helped to rescue hundreds of migrants fleeing war-torn Syria to Europe.
Commander Vartan said: ‘As a ship at sea we are obligated to save life, so irrespective of whatever our mission is, and quite often we were doing both parts together. If you come across an un-seaworthy craft or a sinking craft, as a mariner we are obligated to save life.
‘Ninety per cent of the time these boats were heavily overladen, sometimes taking on water, but very definitely not going to make their destination and very definitely not going to make it back to a safe place to disembark their personnel.
‘Quite often the boats we were encountering were inflatables that were carrying 200. And that was always an unpleasant event. The individuals were malnourished, quite often carrying injuries - either legacy injuries from what they have endured over their travels or injuries while they were being pushed off the coast. So we had a triage unit of medical facilities on board just to be able to rescue them.’
The ship encountered people of 23 nationalities during its rescue mission, he added. She has now handed over responsibilities to sister ship HMS Echo.