EU AIMS TO HALT MASS OF DEATHS AT SEA
A naval force will target smugglers who send migrants out of Libya in flimsy boats.
ROME — The European Union on Monday launched a naval operation aimed at halting smugglers in Libya who so far this year have sent about 60,000 migrants sailing across the Mediterranean Sea, headed for Italy on f limsy boats.
Six naval ships, two submarines, two drones and three surveillance aircraft will make up the f leet, which will be led by an Italian aircraft carrier, the Cavour. The operation will run for 12 months.
Fourteen European nations, including Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Britain, are backing the operation, which was conceived after about 800 migrants drowned when their wooden vessel capsized in April.
Although EU officials have discussed landing commandos in lawless Libya to tackle traffickers and destroy boats, the economic bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Monday that gathering intelligence would be the f irst task of the mission.
The initial phase, which is set to begin in the coming days, “covers information gathering and patrolling on the high seas to support the detection and monitoring of smuggling networks,” she said.
Any incursions into Libyan waters would require a United Nations Security Council resolution, which has been held up by a lack of approval from Libyan authorities.
The North African country has descended into chaos since the 2011 ouster and death of its ruler, Moammar Kadafi, and now has two rival governments, one in Tobruk and one in Tripoli.
Even if raids proceed, it is unclear how the EU would be able to identify migrant boats before they are put to use by traffickers.
But Mogherini said care would be taken to not harm migrants.
“The targets, let me be very clear, are not the migrants. The targets are those who are making money on their lives and too often on their deaths,” she said. “It is part of our efforts to save lives.”
Though sailings from Libya to Italy continue, 55,000 migrants, including many Syrians f leeing their nation’s civil war, have sailed to Greece this year after crossing into Turkey, with many wading onto beaches among tourists on Greek islands.
Most plan to seek asylum in wealthier countries such as Germany and Sweden.
Other nations, including France, have begun to turn back migrants at their borders as voter resentment toward the growing number of arrivals increases.
THE PORT of Taranto in Italy is a disembarkation point for migrants rescued by a British ship.