Tuesday

27th Jun 2017

EU states to offer boats to Libyan coastguard

  • Operation Sophia has saved some 25,000 people since its launch last year (Photo: Frontex)

EU states may offer vessels to Libya as part of a broader effort against migrant smuggling.

An EU source on Wednesday (31 August) told reporters in Brussels that Libyans were likely to be patrolling their own territorial waters on the boats before next summer.

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"I think that some member states will provide some more vessels to the Libyans," he said.

Libya is the main staging point along the north African coast for people seeking international protection in the EU.

Some 100,000 have left the country, often in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, since the start of the year.

Sophia, the EU's naval operation in the Mediterranean, was earlier this week tasked to train the Libyan coastguard and also start cracking down on boats ferrying weapons to the conflict-ridden country.

The campaign is not alone in the region. An Italian maritime security operation with five ships is also present, along with Nato, NGOs, and the EU's border agency Frontex.

But Sophia's training and arms missions represents another turning point since its 22 June 2015 launch.

A three-phase training period for Libyans is set to kick off late September or early October.

Some 80 Libyans will be selected and vetted and then trained aboard the San Giorgio Italian armoured cruiser in international waters for 14 weeks.

"Training them and giving them some capabilities will give them the possibility to save lives," the EU source said.

Twice as many people have died this year crossing the sea compared with last year.

Around 2,000 perished inside Libyan waters this year alone, noted the source.

He said the presence of Sophia on the rim of Libyan territorial waters has acted as a major deterrence for smugglers.

Since last year, the operation has seized 288 boats, arrested 87 smugglers and helped save the lives of almost 25,000 people.

Sophia's ultimate goal is to one day operate inside Libyan territorial waters as well.

But such a mission would require an invitation from the Libyan authorities and a UN Security Council mandate. Neither appears likely in the immediate future.

Arms embargo and Nato

In the meantime, the UN security council has given the naval campaign authority to seize weapons at sea.

Boats caught with arms will be escorted to a port in Marseille where crew members will then face French justice.

"If there is a need to dispose of these weapons, they will be escorted to the port of diversion," said a second EU source.

The move means Sophia will have more ships at its disposal.

The operation already involves 24 EU states, five ships, three helicopters, three aeroplanes, and some 1,200 people under the command of Italian rear admiral Enrico Credendino.

Two more ships are expected from France and another from the UK. Belgium is also set to deploy a boat in October.

Nato, which is also operating in the same waters, is set to help Sophia with logistics and intelligence gathering.

Jamie Shea, a Nato official, earlier this year had said the alliance was procuring new Global Hawk drones that may be deployed near the Libyan coast.

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Member states could fail to meet their refugee quotas even if they wanted to, as strict eligibility rules mean there are few candidates left in Greece and Italy. Sweden is already wondering if it will meet its pledge.

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