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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700-800 Bodies Believed To Be Inside 18 April Migrant Boat Wreck

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

Marina Militare / Italian Navy – Image by underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV)

Marina Militare / Italian Navy

Marina Militare / Italian Navy – sonar image

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Notable Comments – Italy’s Navy Chief, Admiral Donato Marzano: “I intervene to help people at sea”

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.

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UN Security Council to Meet on 11 May to Consider Mediterranean Migrant Situation

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.”

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Russia Will Veto Any UN Security Council Resolution Seeking to Authorise Destruction of Smuggling Boats in Libya

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.

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Approximately 40 Migrants Reported Dead After Merchant Ship Approached Migrant Boat

Reuters and other news agencies report that rescued survivors arriving today in Sicily told Save the Children that about 40 persons died – other survivors reported that “lots” of people died – after “dozens of people fell into the sea when they saw the merchant ship approach” their overloaded rubber dinghy. The migrant boat left Libya and was rescued on Sunday south of Sicily.

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UK Delays Deployment of Navy Ship in Mediterranean Until Italy Agrees to Accept Rescued Migrants

Another example of why ships, commercial and military, may sometimes avoid rescuing migrant boats: the Guardian reported yesterday that the UK has kept the HMS Bulwark at anchor in Sicily “amid a diplomatic spat over where rescued people should be disembarked and processed. … Involvement was held up by deliberations between the Italian and British foreign ministries. Britain, which agreed to send the ship after emergency EU talks last month, sought guarantees that the migrants rescued by HMS Bulwark could be taken to Italian ports once they are saved from the high seas.”

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UN Security Council President on Mediterranean Migrant Crisis: It’s Not About Protecting Europe; It’s About Protecting the Refugees.

After meetings on Tuesday this week between HRVP Federica Mogherini and the current UN Security Council President, Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar (Lithuania assumes the Presidency of the Security Council on 1 May), the AP reported that “diplomats are warning that United Nations backing for any European Union plan to address the growing Mediterranean migration crisis could take longer than anyone wants.”  Ambassador Kawar said “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to having [support] now” and that the effort is “not about protecting Europe. It’s about protecting the refugees.”

Excerpts from HRVP Mogherini’s press conference on 28 April at the Security Council:

“[***] My presence here was already planned today for addressing the [NPT review] conference, but I also took the chance of following up on the European Council we had last Thursday where the Heads of State and Government of the European Union discussed the tragedies that are happening in the Mediterranean, linked to the trafficking and smuggling of people across the Mediterranean, but also all the way through Africa and, in most cases, from places of the world like Syria or the Horn of Africa where their life is put at risk. So, I have had discussions about that today with the EU Permanent representatives of the countries that are sitting in the Security Council: Lithuania that is taking the Presidency of the Security Council from Friday, Spain, UK and France. I will meet also the Italian Permanent representative later on, the Russian Permanent representative and I will meet Samantha Power tomorrow in Washington as well as Secretary Kerry – not only on this but also on this. I will be visiting China next week where this issue will also be part of my talks. [***]

Q&A:
Question: [***] And on the question of an EU mandate for military operations off of Libya, do you have any sense of when that could be pushed through at the Security Council?

HRVP Federica Mogherini: [***] On the creation of an international framework, of a legal framework for fighting traffickers and smugglers, we also had a very useful conversation with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon together with Prime Minister Renzi yesterday in Sicily. It is not for the European Union to set the UN Security Council time framework, the EU is not sitting in the Security Council, as you know very well. So it is not for me to comment on the next steps. What I can say is that we are working in Brussels and in strong coordination with the European Union members of the Security Council to make sure that our planning, our options that are being prepared in Brussels, go hand in hand with the discussions that can be made in the Security Council, and not only with the European Union members, also with others. I think I mentioned the fact that I just met the Jordanian permanent representative, not only as President of the Council but also as an Arab country that has a lot to say when it comes to the stability and the security of the region. And also the African Union. I spoke with the President of the African Union Mrs Zuma this morning to find ways of cooperating strongly in preventing the criminal organisations to act on the African territory and to address the root causes of the phenomena. Because we know very well that we cannot focus only on one of the links of the chain, meaning the last part of the trip. But we have to address root causes; we have to address the issue of poverty, of wars, of human rights, of unequal distribution and access to resources, being it financial or other kind of resources. And we need to do it in partnership with the countries that are involved in this. Because the human trafficking and smuggling is clearly a violation of Human rights but it is also clearly a threat and a challenge for the security and the stability of all countries involved, all the way. It is not only a European issue, it is not only a Libyan issue – even if we are looking at finding ways of cooperating with all Libyans to face this threat and to find ways of working together in preventing this spreading even more in the territory. But we need to work in cooperation with our partners around the region and around the world for sure. So not for me to set up a time frame for UN Security Council to work, but for sure to make sure that the European Union work on this is coordinated and is fully in respect of international law. On this, let me also say that I spoke with António Guterres on Sunday to start coordinating even more closely, because our main objective is to save lives. Saving lives also means take care of the people we save. And on this we look for a strong partnership with the UNHCR and it would be good to see the UNHCR operating in all places through which the smuggling and trafficking of people takes place.

Question: On this migrants’ smuggling question. Can you say how soon your enforcement operations will begin? Which countries will participate? And any details on how this enforcement effort will be underway?

HRVP Federica Mogherini: I was tasked last Thursday to start preparation for possible operations by the European Union, in full respect of international law, which means that we will need in any case to have a legal basis before we start operation on a European Union level. In the meantime, we are preparing options for a mission, for an operation. The process would be, first for me to present options to the Ministers, for them to take decisions; decisions in the EU are taken by unanimity, 28. And then it will be up to single Member States to decide whether and in which way they can participate to the operation. So we have different phases: preparation has already started on Thursday, on the very same day [than the European Council]. We are having the first discussion and thinking with the Member States in these very same hours. And we are working rapidly, but still, “rapidly” in the context of the European Union, definitely means not a couple of days. Also because in the meantime, as I said, we need to make sure that we have framework of international legality, in which we want to operate. There is nothing we are going to do that is outside of the framework and we work together with the UN and/or in partnership with the Libyan authorities. I will have a meeting shortly also with Bernardino Leon to see ways in which we can even more support his efforts to find an agreement in Libya because we know we have to partner with Libya, with all Libyans in this. And let me stress it very much because I know that the messages might have been perceived in a nuanced way. I want to make it very clear that there is nothing the European Union is preparing or thinking of that is intended to be against the Libyan people or the Libyan authorities in all their complexity. What we want to do is to work with Libyans on their own security, on their own possibility of freeing the country of criminal and also terrorist networks that are proliferating at this time. So it is a partnership we are looking for.

Question: Would you please tell us whether the EU supports a resolution from the Security Council and the creation of a maritime force that deals with the issue of trafficking people across the Mediterranean and with the flow of arms inside and outside Libya?

HRVP Federica Mogherini: The content of my talks here today has been on the first part of your question, absolutely yes. How we can stop the trafficking organisations: at sea, not only at sea, let me say, because if you take 5 minutes and look at the statement of the European Council there is this task for me, but there is also the task of working on other aspects of the prevention and the fight against trafficking organisations. Namely, the work will increase with Niger, with Mali, with the other neighbouring countries of Libya – Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria. Not to focus only on the last part of the trip but also on the rest of the security we need to build. So yes, this is definitely part of my mandate, this is definitely part of my talks that for the moment have been very constructive, I would say.
[***]”

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Mogherini at UN Seeking “Framework of International Legality” for Military Strikes on Smuggling Boats; Security Council Expected to Consider Issue in Coming Weeks

Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is currently at the United Nations and seeking support for the authorisation of EU military strikes on smuggling boats in Libya: “[The EU] need[s] to make sure we have a framework of international legality in which we want to operate. There’s nothing we’re going to do that’s outside the framework of work together with U.N. and/or in partnership with the Libyan authorities” She said that the EU was working in “strong coordination” with the EU members of the U.N. Security Council on the issue. (See also tweet from EU UN Mission: “Human trafficking is threat for security & stability for all countries & EU will work with all partners.”)

Yesterday Mogherini sought to assure Libya that whatever the EU does, should not be perceived as an attack against the Libyan people: “I want to make it very clear there is nothing the European Union is preparing or thinking of that is to be intended against Libyan people or the Libyan authorities in all their complexity.”

Bernardino León, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), will brief the UN Security Council today (Wednesday, 29 April) regarding the dialogue between different Libyan groups that is being facilitated by the UN.

While León’s briefing is not expected to address the issue of authorising EU military strikes, according to What’s In Blue-Security Council Report, “[t]he humanitarian situation in Libya is likely to be of interest to Council members. … In a 21 April press statement, Council members expressed grave concern at the recent proliferation of the smuggling of migrants off the coast of Libya. Even though this issue exceeds the scope of the conflict in Libya and is expected to be tackled separately by the Council in the coming weeks, Council members might be interested in asking León about reactions among Libyans of the potential responses to this phenomenon which are being discussed by the European Union and others….”

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