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Wikileaks reveals EU anti-smuggler operation seeks invitation to enter Libyan waters

Maltese transhipment is node in export of Chinese rubber dinghies to Libya that are eventually used to smuggle migrants out of North African country

Matthew Vella
18 February 2016, 9:14am
HMS Bulwark effects a rescue from a wooden boat, which are now being replaced by rubber dinghies; Reports of rubber boast being imported from China and transhipped in Malta were supported by a recent interception by Maltese customs of 20 packaged rubber boats in a container destined for Misratah, Libya
WikiLeaks have released a confidential six-monthly report from the European Union’s Mediterranean naval operation Sophia, in which a move to operate inside Libyan waters has been revealed.

The operation currently operates outside of Libyan territorial waters, consistent with a United Nations Security Council Resoluion.

The ‘phase 2’ of the Libyan plan, revealed by the operation’s commander Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, says that the UN-mandated Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) would have to invite European naval forces into Libya, as well as obtain a UN Security Council Resolution to provide the necessary legal mandate to operate.

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“Whilst the transition to phase 2 in Libyan TTW (territorial waters) with only a UNSCR (security resolutoin) without an invitation from the Libyan authorities is theoretically possible, it is unlikely that the UNSCR would be adopted as Russia and China have previously stated that a Libyan invitation would be required by them so as not to block the resolution,” Credendino said.

EUNAVFOR MED’s assessment revealed that the operation plans to move inside Libyan waters to “achieve further success as we get towards the heart of [smuggler and trafficker] networks” but also admitting that there are legal obstacles to achieving such an incursion.

“As we will be operating in Libyan Territorial Waters, the current legal finish, of prosecuting suspected smugglers in Italy will not apply,” Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, the Operation Commander, wrote in the report.

“We will therefore need a new legal basis; either an agreement with the Libyan authorities that they will waive their right to prosecute suspected smugglers in Libya and allow them to be prosecuted by another Member State, or to have a transfer agreement in place for apprehended smugglers to be transferred to the Libyan authorities for prosecution.

“Both options have specific challenges end rely on the consent of the Libyan authorities. If we were to transfer suspected persons to the Libyan authorities, we would need to ensure that they are treated in accordance with human rights standards that are acceptable to the EU and Member States.”

Credendino warns that without the required “legal finish” the operation would be compelled to release suspected smugglers apprehended in Libyan waters “with a subsequent loss of credibility for the operation in the media and EU public opinion.”

Smugglers’ business model

The report reveals how wooden boats are mainly used for migrant smuggling to the west of Tripoli, and rubber boats are more common to the east of Tripoli.

Wooden boats are more valuable than rubber dinghies because they can carry more people, enabling more profit for smugglers, as well as being more resilient to bad weather and reusable if recovered by smugglers.

But folliowng Operation Sophia, smugglers can no longer recover smuggling vessels on the high seas, effectively rendering them a less economic option for the smuggling business.

According to intelligence sources, the wooden boats used are purchased from Libyan fishermen or imported from Tunisia and Egypt.

Reports of rubber boats being imported from China and transhipped in Malta and Turkey were supported by a recent interception by Maltese customs of 20 packaged rubber boats in a container destined for Misratah, Libya. As there are no legal grounds for holding such shipments, it was released for delivery to the destination.

Matthew Vella is editor MaltaToday.com.mt and MaltaToday on Sunday.

He joined Mediat...
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