25 Jul 2016

EUNAVFOR MED: the Spanish frigate REINA SOFIA conducts a boarding operation

On Tuesday 19 July afternoon, while conducting a rescue operation the Spanish ship ESPS Reina Sofia boarded a small skiff in the high seas off the coast of Libya intent in suspicious activity, apprehending two suspect human smugglers.

Having been detained on board the Spanish ship for almost two days, then on the 21 of July, two suspects have been delivered to the Italian authorities following the ship arrival in Catania port where the Italian authorities have validated their apprehension for being suspected of human smuggling/trafficking.

The suspect smugglers were apprehended with no resistance soon after the rescue teams of the Spanish ship provided first aid to 362 migrants in 4 different rescue operations. The EU personnel involved in the action, the migrants and the two suspects are in good health conditions.

The Luxembourgish Maritime Patrol Aircraft SW3 Merlin III  detected a small skiff towing a migrant boat in the high seas off the coast of the Libya city of Sabratah. The information was immediately reported to the Force Commander who ordered to the helicopter AB 212 embarked on the mission flagship, Italian light aircraft carrier Garibaldi , and to the Spanish frigate to direct maximum speed towards the suspect skiff and to intercept it.

Having reached the skiff position the Italian Helicopter, subsequently substituted by the Spanish helicopter AB 212 embarked on ESPS Reina Sofia, guaranteed needed air coverage to the Spanish ship’s boarding team which boarded the skiff and apprehended the two suspects then brought on board.

This is the second action in ten daysEUNAVFOR MED assets perpetrated against suspect smugglers.

Since 7 October 2015, as agreed by the EU Ambassadors within the Security Committee on 28 September, the operation moved to Phase 2 (in International Waters), which entails boarding, search, seizure and diversion, on the high seas, of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking.

Thus far, following EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia ’s activities, 78 suspected smugglers and traffickers have been prosecuted by the Italian authorities and 217 boats have been prevented from being re-used by smugglers. Nonetheless, more than 20.700 lives were saved at sea.

Last 20 June 2016 EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia was extended until 27 July 2017. On the occasion, the Council of the European Union also reinforced its mandate by adding two supporting tasks: training of the Libyan coastguards and navy and contributing to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.