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)
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.
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.”
An Italian prosecutor on Friday said that “more than 700, maybe 800″ bodies are contained within the wreckage of the migrant boat that sank 85 miles off the coast of Libya on 18 April. The boat has been located by the Italian Navy and an effort may be made to recover the bodies. It is at a depth of 375 metres. Fewer than 30 people were rescued at the time of the accident and only 24 bodies have been recovered so far.
Marina Militare / Italian Navy – Image by underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV)
Marina Militare / Italian Navy – sonar image
Italy is hosting on 8 May a high level meeting of European naval forces. In response to questions from AFP about calls for a resumption of push backs in the Mediterranean, Admiral Marzano said: “There are several countries that apply a policy of expulsion, even by force of arms, others apply the international right to rescue. I am a sailor who has spent 20 years on boats. If I find a boat adrift, I’m sorry but I don’t turn away. I intervene to help people at sea. I don’t know if this reflects my Italian culture but I do know it is international law. A vessel in difficulty, whether it is a boat full of migrants or a merchant ship, has to be assisted.”
See also ANSA: Amm.Marzano, Non mi volterò mai dall’altra parte.
The UN Security Council will meet on Monday, 11 May, to consider the situation in the Mediterranean. HRVP Federica Mogherini will brief the Security Council. Italy has circulated a draft resolution among European members of the Security Council. ANSA reports that the European members of the UN Security Council have reached an agreement and are “very close” to being able to circulate a draft resolution. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the goal is to get “a legal framework” to “perform individual operations against traffickers.” Gazzetta Del Sud reports that “European sources said next Monday’s Security Council meeting will be a ‘first step’ to assess what kind of mandate might be needed for European operations against migrant traffickers. It is not likely that meeting will come up with a resolution, the sources said. European High Foreign Representative Federica Mogherini will present a May 18 council of EU foreign ministers with various security and defense options.” Russia has already said that it would veto a resolution authorising military strikes, but that it might consider supporting “a more restricted mandate for any EU military mission, which could involve a search and rescue role alongside powers to stop and seize smugglers’ boats at sea.”
The Financial Times (paywall or answer marketing questions) reported yesterday that Russia will veto any UN Security Council resolution that would authorise the destruction of migrant boats in Libya. The FT reported that Russia might consider supporting “a more restricted mandate for any EU military mission, which could involve a search and rescue role alongside powers to stop and seize smugglers’ boats at sea.”
The Security Council’s Programme of Work for the month of May does not currently include any meetings pertaining to the EU’s desire for authorisation of military strikes on smugglers boats, but a briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean might take place next week according to footnotes to the Programme of Work.