Naval Reservist returns from rescuing migrants in the Med

After HMS Bulwark returned home following her migrant rescue operation in the Med so did Ruairi Holohan – a Reservist called up for duty due to his linguistic skills.

The Social Care Manager from London is a Sub Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserves and spent five weeks on board the warship where he spoke French and Arabic to the thousands of migrants rescued by the navy.

He was among the first of the sailors on board who would meet the migrants on the Royal Marines’ landing crafts which would sail out to transport them from their boats to HMS Bulwark.

“Once on board the ship I would use my language skills to process the migrants and get the details required such as name, nationality, age and any minor injuries or illnesses,” said Ruairi, who attends HMS Hibernia, the Royal Naval Unit in Northern Ireland.

I am extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to help so many people in need.

Ruairi Holohan RNR

He continued,“On a typical rescue we would speak to in excess of 1,000 migrants. From there I would go to the med tent to interpret for the medics dealing with those who were sick or injured.”

HMS Bulwark, a Landing Platform (Dock) based in Plymouth, deployed at short notice on May 5 with the immediate mandate to save lives.

During her deployment she saved more than 3,000 people and was at the forefront of the search and rescue mission.

Although Ruairi, who is originally from Dublin, was deployed as a linguist, his civilian training formed a key part of his role as he also became involved in delivering primary social care to the migrants.

“At home I work in residential units and family assessment centres,” he said. “The average transit time to Italy was 30 hours so I spent the time helping coordinate the care for the families and those who were injured.

“We had to care for several unaccompanied children, something which I do in my regular day job where I've worked in residential units for unaccompanied minors.

And my baby bottle making skills were also called into action as we had infants onboard including one three-week-old baby.”

HMS Bulwark has handed over to HMS Enterprise – a survey vessel well suited to the next stage of the EU operation which aims to go after the criminal gangs and smugglers.

The ship will help the Italian Operational Commander in the understanding and picture building of how the operation will go on to seize and disrupt the assets of smugglers.

As HMS Bulwark returns for scheduled maintenance Ruairi, who left the ship before she began her transit home, is now back at work.

“It was a brilliant experience,” he said. “The chance to put all the skills I have learnt into practice during a live and high profile operation is something I will never forget.

“I am extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to help so many people in need.”