By Libya Herald reporters.
Tripoli, 24 August 2016:
Libyan coastguard and naval personnel are to be trained by the EU to help them tackle people-smugglers, who so far this year have sent 107,000 migrants toward Europe, 2,700 of them to their deaths.
Coastguard commander Abdalh Toumia signed the training deal in Rome yesterday on behalf of the Government of National Accord. Alongside him was the head of the EU’s anti-smuggling Operation Sophia, Italian admiral Enrico Credendino.
“This training will improve the security of Libyan territorial waters”, said Credendino, “ and help Libya to perform law enforcement actions in order to tackle the criminal organisations that take advantage of smuggling and trafficking in human beings”. It would also, he added prevent further loss of life at sea.
Details have not been given of how many Libyans will be trained. However they will first spend a period on board one of Operation Sophia’s patrolling naval vessels, almost certainly one belonging to the Italian navy. These warships are stationed in international waters, though it seems clear that, in response to distress calls from migrants, they have come inside Libya’s martime frontier.
The trainees will then move to an unnamed shore base in the EU or Libya for classroom instruction. Their three-month course will end with further drills upon Libyan patrol vessels.
Ironically, almost at the same time that the deal was being inked in Rome, in Tripoli Libyan navy spokesman Ayyub Gassem described Operation Sophia as Italian propaganda designed to conceal illegal fishing and fuel smuggling to the EU.
“We do not need training” Gassem said in an interview with the Libya Observer “we need boats and other equipment”. He complained that Italy had still not released four Libyan patrol vessels sent there for maintenance in August 2014.
The Italian were claiming, said Gassem, that they could not hand the boats back because the security situation was obscure. He continued “However, it is clear that Italy wants to have more time to continue stealing Libya’s resources and smuggling its fuel”.