While paying tribute to the Irish Naval Service for its efforts to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean, Bishop William Crean of the Diocese of Cloyne in County Cork compared the migrants’ deaths to the Irish experience of coffin ships during the Great Famine.

The bishop, who is Chairman of Trócaire, the overseas aid agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said the reports and images emerging from the Mediterranean were disturbing. He urged greater action by Europe, and called for prayers for all those involved in the crisis, the Irish Times reports.

“Almost every day we see in the media heart-breaking images of refugees fleeing from hunger, from war, from other grave dangers, in search of security and a dignified life for them and their families in Europe.

“The loss of such high numbers of innocent lives at sea resonates strongly with the Irish experience of the ‘coffin ships’ during the time of the Great Famine,” said Bishop Crean.

He remarked that many of the naval personnel on board the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Niamh, who have rescued 5,024 migrants so far, have strong family links with the Diocese of Cloyne and he praised them for their “compassionate, humanitarian response.”

“We have an obligation to safeguard the rights, the religion and the traditions of migrants fleeing persecution. Pope Francis, an outspoken advocate for greater European-wide participation in rescue efforts, reiterated in April his call for action during his July 2013 visit to the island of Lampedus.

He made a “heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated.”

“What is required is a global solution to this global crisis in order to tackle the root causes of forced migration,” said the bishop.

He asked people “to pray for the thousands of refugees who are undertaking the perilous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea on boats that are barely fit for purpose, for those who have perished in attempting to reach European shores and for those who are coming to the aid the refugees.”