First Published: 2016-11-02

EU hopes Libyan coast guard training will end attacks on migrant boats
EU mission aims to train 500 Libyans in total, prevent attacks on boats by rogue vessels.
Middle East Online

ROME - An EU mission to train the Libyan coast guard hopes to diffuse tensions between the crisis-hit country and migrant rescue boats off its shores, and stop attacks by rogue vessels, its chief said Wednesday.

Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, who heads up Operation Sophia, admitted NGOs working to savemigrants off Libya had been shot at by the coast guard in the past, but said the training programme, which began last week, was the solution.

"In some occasions the coast guard has reacted too violently (to NGO boats entering Libyan territorial waters) because it did not have the training," he told journalists in Rome. "That's what the training is for".

The mission, which aims to train 500 Libyans in total, also hopes to stop tragedies such as the one last month in which men on what appeared to be a Libyan coast guard speedboat attacked migrants on a dinghy, leaving 25 people feared drowned.

"In some cases we cannot be sure that it's the coast guard... it's the traffickers who are masquerading," Credendino said.

"Everyone wears camouflage (uniforms). We've seen Zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats exactly like the ones used by the coast guard) sailing under a Libyan flag. It doesn't mean it's the coast guard," he said.

"In any case, the idea of training the Libyan coast guard is to make sure they act in accordance with international law," he added.

By providing training and equipment -- Italy is supplying 10 coast guard boats -- it will then be up to the Libyans to deal with the security issues off its coastline, including the smuggling of migrants, weapons, drugs and oil, he said.

With October marking a record monthly high in the number of migrants arriving in Italy in recent years -- some 27,000 people -- the pressure is on to train the coast guard quickly in order to curb the growing influx from North Africa.

- 'Political decision' -

And with Mediterranean migrant fatalities this year hitting 3,800, it is also hoped lives will be saved.

"Most of the people who have died this year have died inside Libyan waters, where we cannot intervene. A trained Libyan coast guard could prevent many deaths. This is why we're in a rush to train them," Credendino said.

With Libyans also expected to attend training camps on land in Italy, Greece or Malta, the EU wants the coast guard "to be able to independently patrol the territorial waters by summer, before the (migrant departure) season begins".

Asked whether those rescued by the newly trained force will be returned to chaotic Libya -- where many migrants say they have been tortured -- Credendino said "we'll have to see what happens. That's a political decision".

"We have to work together with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN's refugee agency," both of which have agreed to help with the humanitarian repatriation of vulnerable migrants from Libya.

The EU launched Operation Sophia last year after hundreds of migrants died when their rickety boats sank off southern Italy.

It currently comprises five vessels and three helicopters charged with intercepting smugglers' boats and destroying them, in international waters.

The Sophia vessels, which patrol up to 12 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, have so far destroyed 337 dinghies and wooden boats to stop smugglers re-using them, and handed 99 alleged traffickers to Italian police.


Assad in Russia for talks with Putin

Islamic republic declares end of Islamic State

Revolt in US State Department over child soldier law

Anti-IS coalition strikes drop to lowest number

Rare moments of joy at Arabs’ unprecedented World Cup qualifications

Brain drain means Syria can’t recover for a generation

Palestinians close communication lines with Americans

German police arrest six Syrians ‘planning terror attack’

Palestinian factions in Cairo for reconciliation talks

Turkish opposition daily web editor sentenced to 3 years in jail

Egypt’s Sisi to meet Lebanon’s Hariri

Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Turkish lira at new low against US dollar

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments

Russia again vetoes renewal of Syria gas attacks probe

UN weighs bid to save Syria gas attacks probe

IS attack kills 26 displaced people in Syria

Saudi FM says Lebanon 'held hostage by Hezbollah'

Egypt to open Rafah crossing for 3 days