Category Archives: News

German Naval Ships Participating in Mediterranean Rescue Operation Destroy Empty Migrant Boats

Two German naval ships, the Hessen and the Berlin, have been participating in Mediterranean rescue operations since 5 May and have reportedly destroyed five migrant boats (four inflatable and one wooden) after rescue operations were completed and migrants removed from the boats. The boats are destroyed because they might pose a navigational hazard to other vessels and might also be mistaken for a boat in distress. (Wir müssen die Boote zerstören, weil sie auf dem offenen Meer ein Schifffahrtshindernis für andere Boote darstellen. Zum anderen könnte es sein, dass wir ein leeres Boot aus der Luft irrtümlich als ein in Seenot befindliches Boot wahrnehmen und hinfahren, um es zu retten. Das kann wertvolle Zeit kosten, die uns bei der Rettung von besetzten Booten dann verloren geht.)

As I have noted before, there are situations such as these where the destruction of a migrant boat may be perfectly legal and appropriate. Assuming reasonable measures can be taken to avoid or minimize environmental damage, the destruction in international waters of an unflagged and unseaworthy vessel would seem to be legal.

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Guardian: “EU plan to strike Libya networks could include ground forces”

From today’s Guardian: “European plans for a military campaign to smash the migrant smuggling networks operating out of Libya include options for ground forces on Libyan territory. The 19-page strategy paper for the mission, obtained by the Guardian, focuses on an air and naval campaign in the Mediterranean and in Libyan territorial waters, subject to United Nations blessing. But it adds that ground operations in Libya may also be needed to destroy the smugglers’ vessels and assets, such as fuel dumps. … [The strategy paper] which is expected to be endorsed by European Union foreign ministers on Monday [states that] ‘[t]he operation would require a broad range of air, maritime and land capabilities. These could include: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units.’ … [The strategy paper states that operations] could include ‘action along the coast, in harbour or at anchor of smugglers assets and vessels before their use’…. The planning document admits that the campaign could result in innocent people being killed: ‘Boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life’.”

See full article here.

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Russia May Agree to Security Council Resolution Authorising “Seizing and Arresting” Smuggler Boats and Assets – Security Council Vote Could Happen at Any Time

Politico EU reports that “Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told POLITICO the ‘EU’s proposals of destroying vessels would definitely go too far for Russia,’ but did not oppose the other key element of [HRVP Federica] Mogherini’s proposal. ‘In our opinion, seizing and arresting vessels and assets of smugglers would be an adequate measure to undermine their illegal “business model” in Libya,’ he said. Chizhov confirmed that ‘Russia is ready to work with the EU and its member states with the aim of solving the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, including on a possible UNSC resolution.’”

Politico EU suggests that “Mogherini or other EU officials may carefully shift emphasis from the boat destruction plan to the interruption of the trafficker networks” and reports that “[a] vote on a UN resolution could happen anytime in coming weeks — even before next Monday would be possible…”

See full article here.

PS – Of interest to anyone following the EU, check out Politico EU’s Brussels Playbook – a daily early morning summary of EU news and events in Brussels.

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UN Security Council, 11 May, Briefing and Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Smuggling of Migrants in the Mediterranean

Full text from “What’s in Blue” (published by Security Council Report):

“On Monday (11 May) the [Security] Council will receive a briefing by Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on the EU response to the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. After the briefing, Council members are expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue with her. At the request of Chad, the permanent observer of the AU to the UN, Ambassador Tete António, will also participate in these meetings.

This briefing comes after the 19 April incident in which more than 700 migrants drowned when the overcrowded boat on which they were traveling sank near Libya. According to the [International] Organization for Migration, more than 1,700 migrants have drowned since the beginning of January in the Mediterranean Sea. In a 21 April press statement, Council members expressed grave concern at the smuggling of migrants off the coast of Libya, highlighting the implications for regional stability. On 22 April, at the request of the UK, Council members exchanged views on this issue under ‘any other business”’

Mogherini is expected to brief Council members on the integrated strategy by the EU to address the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The strategy includes the provision of bilateral development assistance to countries on the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin—as well as to countries of origin and transit—while tripling the financial resources available to operations Triton and Poseidon, currently existing in the territorial waters of EU member states. In a 20 April joint meeting of EU foreign and interior Ministers, chaired by Mogherini, the Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos of Greece presented a plan to respond to migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean, which would entail a systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers, inspired by the EU Atalanta Operation deployed to fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia. The plan was endorsed in a 23 April meeting of the EU Council, and negotiations are ongoing at the EU to agree on the Crisis Management Concept, which is the basis for operational planning and conduct of any EU mission.

Since that meeting, discussions among EU members of the Council (France, Lithuania, Spain, and the UK) and Italy on a draft resolution apparently authorising such an operation have been ongoing. It seems some permanent members have been able to provide inputs. It appears the idea is for a Chapter VII resolution that will authorise an EU operation to use all necessary measures to inspect, seize and dispose of vessels when there are grounds to believe that they are participating in the smuggling of migrants. The draft may be circulated to the wider membership of the Council in the coming days.

Although most Council members have not seen the draft text, they are aware of some of its elements and are expected to seek information that might feed into any negotiations of the draft. Council members are likely to want to know more about the expected geographical scope of the resolution (whether this includes the high seas, the territorial waters of Libya or even its shore) and whether the EU is seeking Libya’s consent. In this context, Council members might inquire about Mogherini’s recent conversations in Tunisia with Libyan political actors, and the potential impact of such an operation on the political process. Some Council members might be worried that asking for the consent of the Tobruk-based government could negatively impact the talks, which are aimed at the formation of a government of national unity.

Some Council members may echo concerns regarding the protection of human rights and international refugee law that have been raised by the Secretary-General as well as the UN High Commissioners for Human Rights and Refugees. In particular, they might ask about the fate of the migrants taken into custody, and note the importance of respecting the guarantees of international law, notably the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle of non-refoulement. When the programme of work was adopted, a briefing by the High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, was being considered for some point in May. Some Council members may have expected these briefings to happen before engaging in discussions about the regional responses to the smuggling of migrants; however, at press time, it was unclear if and when they will be held.

In the past, it has been difficult to get agreement on resolutions authorising the interception of vessels, whether in the context of the implementation of sanctions or counter-piracy measures. Some Council members feel strongly about not contravening the freedom of navigation principle codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As such, they have tended to focus their discussions in the past on issues such as the procedures to authorise the interdiction, whether the consent of the flag state is required, and where the interdiction is authorised to happen.”

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German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) Criticises Growing Reliance on Merchant Vessels to Conduct Mediterranean Sea Rescue – Calls for Expansion of SAR Boundaries

Ralf Nagel, the Chief Executive Officer of the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR), last week called on Germany to deploy Navy vessels outside of the Frontex Triton operation zone and closer to the coast of Libya where private merchant ships are often the first to encounter migrant boats in distress. At least two German Navy ships were in Crete last week waiting for deployment instructions. “Deploying the [German] Navy in that part of the Mediterranean would not only send a strong political signal to Brussels, it would also be an important message for the shipping industry, which is doing all it can. And above all else: it would save the lives of innumerable refugees. Rescuing people at sea ought to be the responsibility of navy and coast guard vessels as a rule. … [W]e therefore demand that the boundaries within which maritime rescues are conducted by government forces be expanded beyond the Triton zone.”

According to the Frontex Annual Risk Analysis 2015, private merchant ships have been conducting an ever increasing number of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. In December 2014, merchant vessels accounted for just under 40% of the SAR operations. (See graph below map.)

Source: Verband Deutscher Reeder (VDR) / German Shipowners' Association (VDR)

Source: Verband Deutscher Reeder (VDR) / German Shipowners’ Association (VDR)

 

Figure 5

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UN Security Council Draft Resolution on Use of Force in Libya to Call for “Use of All Means to Destroy the Business Model of the Traffickers”

The Guardian reports that the UK has prepared a draft UN Security Council resolution on behalf of the EU “that is believed to call for the ‘use of all means to destroy the business model of the traffickers’.” According to the Guardian the resolution would authorise the use of military force in Libyan territorial waters; the military force “would come under Italian command, have the participation of around 10 EU countries, including Britain, France, Spain, and Italy…” EU naval vessels would be authorised to enter into Libyan territorial waters and helicopter gunships would be used “to ‘neutralise’ identified traffickers’ ships.”

The Security Council meets tomorrow, Monday, 11 May, to consider the situation in the Mediterranean and will receive a briefing from HRVP Federica Mogherini. The Libyan government in Tobruk has said it opposes any such resolution.

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Libyan Government (Tobruk) Will Not Support Proposed UN Security Council Authorisation of Use of Force Against Smuggler Boats

Libyan UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi (representing the Libyan government based in Tobruk) told AP that Libya rejects the EU plan that may soon be considered by the Security Council to authorise the use of force to seize or destroy smugglers boats within Libya.

According to AP, the current Security Council president said that the Council expected that Libya would support the EU proposal, but Dabbashi said that his government “hasn’t even been consulted and rul[ed] out EU forces on Libyan soil ‘at this stage’. … ‘We will not accept any boots on the ground’.” Dabbashi also criticised expanded rescue operations: “He called the idea of deploying more boats to the waters off Libya to save migrants a ‘completely stupid decision’ because it would encourage even more migrants to come to his country, further burdening local authorities.”

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