The Irish Naval service LÉ Samuel Beckett is departing today for the Mediterranean to take part in 'Operation Sophia.’
Operation Sophia is a European military operation targeting gangs and vessels involved in trafficking refugees out of Libya.
Up until last October, Irish troops were solely engaged in humanitarian search and rescue missions in the area.
A number of opposition parties raised concerns over the change to the troop’s mission, warning that the military operation could compromise the Irish Navy’s humanitarian efforts.
Paul Kehoe, the Minister of State with Responsibility for Defence has insisted the crew will be helping to address some of the root causes of migration and human trafficking.
"As we all know Operation Sophia is both a security and humanitarian mission.
"Ireland has been working in the Central Mediterranean for the last number of years and it specifically seeks to counter human trafficking and smuggling in Central Mediterranean.
"It's also taking action against the smugglers and disrupting their business that they are carrying out there on a daily basis."
A cross-party House of Lord’s report in the UK last year found that Operation Sophia has resulted in an increase in migrant and refugee deaths at sea.
The report found that the policy of destroying smuggling boats has simply seen traffickers sending refugees out in smaller, unseaworthy vessels - leading to further deaths.
The number of recorded casualties on the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy rose by 42% to more than 4,500 in 2016.
Amnesty International has warned that the EUs cooperation with the Libyan coast guard has seen many migrants facing ‘horrific human rights abuses’ in Libyan detention centres.
The organisation said the strategy of targeting smugglers led to a three-fold increase in the death rate between 2015 and 2017.
The Missing Migrants project has recorded 557 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean this year.
Minister Kehoe said the operation is aimed at saving lives.
“The core tasks of the personnel will be gathering information and also patrols focusing on countering illegal arms trafficking and operations to intercept smugglers and people trafficking,” he said.
“And also monitoring the effectiveness of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy.”
The LÉ Samuel Beckett is the first Irish naval vessel to be deployed in the Mediterranean this year.