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The Minister for Defence, Mr. Simon Coveney, T.D. and Mr. Carmelo Abela, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security of Malta met today in the margins of the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Riga, Latvia. As well as discussing the EU Defence agenda, the Ministers reviewed the continuing cooperation between Malta and Ireland on Defence matters. This included the training of Maltese personnel in Ireland and future potential operations cooperation, building on the successful joint training team Malta and Ireland provided to the EU Training Mission in Somalia. The Minister agreed to explore further prospects for cooperation.

In this context the Ministers agreed to transfer ownership of the LÉ Aoife to the Maltese Armed Forces. The LÉ Aoife was decommissioned from the Irish Naval Service fleet on 31st January 2015 following 35 years of operational service. While the vessel is no longer viable for use in Irish waters it is ideally suited to address a pressing short-term shortfall in the naval capacity of Malta.

Minister Coveney noted that the " the Maltese authorities require the ship for their armed forces to assist in the patrolling of the Mediterranean Sea to deal with the ongoing difficult refugee crisis in the region. Recent tragic events in that part of the Mediterranean have underlined the significant challenges which need to be addressed by the international community and Ireland is very keen to play an active part in this regard.”

Minister Coveney added that the refugee crisis represents a significant challenge for the EU and that while Ireland was not in the front line of the response to the crisis we were pleased to be in a position to support the response in this manner.

In reply, Minister Abela expressed his country’s appreciation for the Irish donation which will be useful in supporting Malta’s work in border security and the migration crisis affecting the Central Mediterranean. Malta routinely coordinates the rescue and takes in scores of refugees from the Middle East, N.Africa and the Sahel, often in treacherous sea conditions. This donation from the Irish Defence forces will contribute additional capability to the Maltese authorities, and especially the Armed Forces of Malta in their humanitarian work.

Speaking after the meeting, Minister Abela said, “I welcome this very important contribution from Ireland which will help in bridging a gap in Malta’s naval capacity pending our future acquisition of a new Offshore Patrol Vessel.”

The Ministers instructed their officials to deal with the formal modalities of the transfer of ownership of the ship at the earliest opportunity.”

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