The irregular migrant (IM) crisis in the Mediterranean, has seen, so far this year, the rescue of some 110,000 IMs, mainly from large, but flimsy, racketeer-supplied, Chinese-made RIBs, while more than 2,000 have probably perished in the attempt. Most of the IMs, who originate from a variety of nations, begin the sea phase of their journey on the Libyan coast.
Now, the emergency seems to be about to enter a new, and very uncertain, phase.
The frontline of the EU operation to deal with mass irregular migration by sea is EUNAVFOR MED (Operation Sophia), a force of warships and aircraft drawn from 25 contributing European nations, operating off the Libya coast. The operation is dedicated to rescuing IMs, and where possible disrupting the operations of the immigration racketeers. In parallel with Operation Sophia, a multinational fleet of ships of various types, belonging to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) carries out many rescues, accounting this year for more than 40 per centof intercepted IMs.
Europe is facing a potential influx of many millions of economic migrants, and attitudes are hardening. According to some reports, following sharp criticism of the alleged “pull factor” of Operation Sophia, by some politicians, government officials and media commentators, Brussels is urgently considering civilianising, or even curtailing, the operation.
Also, it has recently been confirmed that a right-wing group, Defend Europe, is deploying a ship to the Mediterranean, with the intention of monitoring the activities of NGO ships, some of which the group suspects might be co-operating with immigration racketeers. Defend Europe also says that it will take on board, and ensure the safety of, the occupants of any IM boats which they encounter in distress, but will hand them over to the Libyan Coast Guard, rather than transport them to an Italian port.
The Defend Europe vessel is the crowdfunded, chartered, 40-metre, 422-tonne C-Star (ex-Suunta) a Mongolia-registered former research ship, built in Finland in 1975. Manned by a crew of volunteers, the ship recently left Djibouti, and is expected to reach the main area of IM activity in the Mediterranean around July 21.
Defend Europe says its intentions are peaceable, but there are fears that the presence of C-Star could aggravate an already tense situation, and confrontations are anticipated.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.