Tag Archives: EUNAVFOR

Unsafe Mixed Migration by Sea: The Case of the Mediterranean Region

By Evmorfia-Chrysovalantou Seiti

The Journey for a Better Life

“Migration has been a part of history since the beginning of mankind.”[1] Wars, famine, poverty, political or religious persecution, natural disasters, armed conflicts and many other threats to human security urge people to move, often forcing them to share the same routes and means.[2] Why is this journey unsafe? These people are travelling in unseaworthy boats to find safer and improved living conditions, although many of these people, due to the sometimes long journeys, poor weather conditions, and the bad infrastructure of the boats, are losing their lives at sea. Considering that most migrants had chosen to cross the borders by land, international and regional actors intensified their land operations, leading to a reciprocal increase in the percentage of migration by sea.

Unsafe mixed migration differs from migration in general because in the case of mixed migration there is variety of reasons why people are moving away although they share the same routes, modes of travel and vessels. It is considered unsafe due to the fact that people travel through extremely dangerous passages and in extremely precarious situations. Considering these factors, unsafe mixed migration is a multidimensional problem that requires multidimensional solutions. It should not be ignored that this issue has a social, economic, political and geopolitical nature. In order to bring about viable solutions, a collaborative effort that incorporates all of the stakeholders contributing effectively in the management of this challenge is necessary.

Migrants crowd the deck of their wooden boat off the coast of Libya. Photograph: Reuters.

It should be pointed out that all ships carrying migrants are subject to the rescue at sea obligations by the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Search and Rescue (SAR) Conventions, and ship masters and governments are committed to transfer endangered migrants to a safe place. Governments, regional and international organizations, including the European Union, African Union, International Maritime Organization, and International Organization for Migration, as well as the shipping community, should collaborate on measures to prevent the future loss of lives of migrants at sea. This article will analyze the phenomenon of unsafe mixed migration in the Mediterranean and the efforts made by international and regional actors.

Efforts Taken by International and Regional Actors

International Maritime Organization

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has actively participated in the hotly debated topic of unsafe mixed migration and the maritime issues that have arisen from it, such as safety of life at sea and search and rescue. IMO highlighted the importance of close cooperation among the regional and international stakeholders in the regional migrant problem. IMO is actively addressing these mixed migrant issues within its own committees as well as in joint meetings with UN partners and other relevant international organizations by updating and developing guidance for shipmasters and governments in order to efficiently manage unsafe mixed migration.

As a UN agency with responsibility for safety at sea and the legal framework surrounding search and rescue, IMO amended SOLAS and SAR Conventions and their associated guidelines after the Tampa affair in August 2001. These changes can play a crucial role in promoting effective cooperation between United Nations agencies, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, governments, and the shipping industry.

Another of IMO’s significant contributions to resolving the issue of unsafe mixed migration is its guidance regarding rescue at sea situations. The guidance includes legal provisions on practical procedures as well as measures to ensure the prompt disembarkation of rescued people and the respect of their specific needs. This guidance, created in cooperation with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has appealed to ship owners, governments, insurance companies and other interested parties involved in rescue at sea situations. Recently, in November 2015, the International Chamber of Shipping submitted “Measures to protect the safety of persons rescued at sea,” which provides guidance for large-scale rescue operations at sea, ensuring the safety and security of seafarers and rescued persons. Also, the document provides information on the second edition of the Guidance and supersedes the first edition of the Industry Guidance.

The second edition of the Industry Guidance is supported by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations, Asia Shipowners’ Forum, International Transport Workers’ Federation, Cruise Lines International Association, International Association of Dry Cargo Owners, International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, International Parcel Tankers Association and the International Ship Managers’ Association. Because the “shipping community is not designed for rescuing hundred of thousands of people drifting on hundreds of small, unseaworthy boats left in shipping lanes,” this guidance is “intended to help shipping companies identify and address particular issues that their ships may face when required to conduct a large scale rescue.” What should be emphasized is that this guidance is purely advisory and not mandatory.

All in all, the IMO recognizes the importance of “a close cooperation among several other bodies and UN agencies such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization of Migration, Interpol, the African Union and the European Commission, and the Economic Commission of Africa and for Europe.”

European Union

Regarding the EU perspective, in the meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers in Luxembourg in 2015, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mrs. Federica Mogherini, highlighted that the EU’s external action should be coherent, substantial, and consistent. The EU has legal and moral duties in this crisis, and this situation is not going to affect one or another state but all of the EU member states. Also, she mentioned that this is not a regional crisis but a global crisis and stated that the EU should strengthen the cooperation of member states without any kind of “blame game” among them.

Mrs. Mogherini stated that the EU should enhance cooperation in five different elements: firstly providing protection to those people who need international protection; ensuring the management of borders; fighting against smugglers’ and traffickers’ networks; strengthening partnerships with third countries; and last but not least, taking efforts to work on root causes. This final objective maybe a long-term effort, but it is crucial to establish the rule of law and stability in the countries of origin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center right, listens to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker , center left, as they arrive for an emergency EU heads of state summit on the migrant crisis at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

On 18 May 2015 the EU decided to create a naval force to prevent human smuggling in the Mediterranean. This naval power is a part of the broader approach to avoid losing human lives in the Mediterranean Sea. The joint meeting of foreign and defense ministers discussed the Common Defence and Security Policy and tried to make the CSDP stronger and more effective in view of the security challenges in Europe, specifically crises such as Syria and Ukraine.

The EU Naval Force-Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED) aims to put an end to the business model of smugglers and traffickers. The operation is based in Rome, led by Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, and operates in the South and Central Mediterranean and in cooperation with Libyan authorities. The operation will surveil and evaluate the networks of smugglers in the first phase, followed by the search and seizure of traffickers’ profit, and always within the context of international law. Mrs.  Mogherini said the decision to establish a naval force was part of a comprehensive approach to solve the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. She also stressed that the EU will work with African and Arab countries and partners to help address the causal factors of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean region.

International Organization for Migration

In a joint statement from IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu and IOM Director-General William L. Swing on enhanced cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations, the leaders confirmed their close cooperation in order to manage unsafe mixed migration and reemphasized the cooperation between the two organizations originally agreed to in 1974. The IMO Secretary General and IOM Director General recognized that this situation consists of a humanitarian crisis and requires global action. The two organizations agreed upon seven points including an interagency platform for information sharing, collaboration with other interested agencies, promotion of the provisions of SOLAS, SAR and Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL) Conventions and international migration law, support of the relevant technical cooperation programs of each organization, the setup of technical or advisory bodies, facilitation of discussions to find solutions to unsafe migration by sea. Additionally, they urged the international community to take robust measures against human smugglers who operate without fear or remorse and who deliberately and knowingly endanger the lives of thousands of migrants at sea.[3]

Regarding the EU efforts, IOM expressed its satisfaction regarding the organization’s recommendations which became part of the proposals made by the European Commission to address the crisis of migration in the Mediterranean. These recommendations concern the equal responsibility of all EU member states in the issue of asylum seekers. In addition, the reforms of the European asylum system as described in the plan of the Commission were welcomed by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on International Migration and Development, Mr. Peter Sutherland. Mr. Sutherland also stated in regard to the plan that he believes the resettlement goal of 20,000 immigrants will be increased over time and that the EU will continue to expand safe routes providing assistance to asylum seekers and migrants.

According to Director-General of IOM William Lacy Swing, the proposed changes as expressed by the newly established “European Agenda for Migration” reflect the serious and constructive approach to a challenge that IOM expects to continue. These initiatives are promising for maintaining safe, legal migration routes and improving access to international protection.

In addition, the proposed tripling of the Triton budget will expand the area of operations beyond the current limit of 30 miles and will expand its activities into more dangerous migrant and smuggling routes to help save lives of migrants in high seas. FRONTEX Joint Operation Triton concerns the management of migration in the Central Mediterranean.

LÉ Eithne rescuing migrants as part of Operation Triton in June 2015.
LÉ Eithne rescuing migrants as part of Operation Triton in June 2015.

The IOM has expressed its concerns regarding the military operations conducted in the region, arguing that they can further risk the lives of migrants. This does not mean that the IOM does not recognize the necessity of strong proof of the EU’s determination and its willingness to proceed to substantive actions to eliminate this serious challenge.

The IOM states it is ready to contribute to the development of viable migration policies that will improve the legal “channels” for people seeking work and asylum. IOM believes that sound labor migration policy is the key to a more competitive Europe. Another aspect highlighted by the IOM is cooperation with migrants before they reach the Mediterranean and the support of countries of transit which bear the brunt of those people displaced by conflict and human rights violations. Niger, for example, is a key transit point for migrants heading to Europe. The Commission plan aims for IOM and UNHCR to create “a pilot multi-purpose centre” in the country, which will provide information on the dangers ahead, protection from exploitation and identification of those in need of resettlement, temporary protection, and other options.

African Union

In October 2014 the African Union launched the AU-HOA Initiative known as the Khartoum Process. The AU Regional Ministerial Conference in collaboration with the Government of the Sudan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the IOM, as well as ministers from more than 15 source, transit, and destination countries of migration took part in the initiative’s launch in Khartoum, Sudan. The AU-HOA Regional Ministerial Conference calls for a stronger collaborative approach to tackle human trafficking and smuggling in the Horn of Africa. In his opening remarks, the African Union Commission (AUC) Director of Social Affairs, Dr. Olawale Maiyegun, affirmed on the AU’s continued commitment towards facing the challenges of trafficking and helping its member states address this issue. Dr. Maiyegun highlighted the framework that the African Union adopted and initiated in this regard, including the Ouagadougou Action Plan, the Migration Policy Framework for Africa in 2006, and the African Union Commission Initiative against trafficking (AU.COMMIT) in 2009.

The Second African Union Regional Conference on Human Trafficking and Smuggling in the Horn of Africa was held in Sharm El-Sheikh on 13 and 14 September 2015, and it aimed to prepare the ground for the global summit of migration which took place in Valetta on 11 and 12 November 2015. The discussion focused on migration issues, providing assistance to partner countries, strengthening international cooperation, and better targeting of available resources.

As illustrated by the Khartoum Declaration on AU-HOA Initiative on Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants, ministers and other representatives of the participating African countries agreed to a range of measures including the implementation of provisions of other relevant regional and international schemes of cooperation. They agreed that refugees should be treated in accordance with these provisions and conventions and they should examine the root causes that make people vulnerable to human trafficking and smuggling as well as ways to manage the issue from its roots. This may entail raising public awareness to broadening policies and programs towards economic and social development, human rights, and improving the rule of law and education. In order to combat traffickers and smugglers there is a provision for training and technical support in the origin, transit and destination countries in order to develop and strengthen the capacity of law enforcement. Regarding the humanitarian assistance, states would provide specialized assistance and services for the physical, psychological and social recovery and rehabilitation of trafficked persons and abused smuggled migrants.

ILO’s Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon presenting on Labour Migration Governance for Development and Integration in Africa. © IOM/Craig Murphy 2014.

All things considered, these measures and provisions cannot be implemented if there is a lack of cooperation, coordination, and support among all relevant stakeholders, including regional and international organizations, especially UNHCR, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Labour Organization (ILO) and IOM as well as civil society organizations and the private sector.

The Khartoum Process is crucial because it “provides a political forum for facilitating the more practical measures that must be accomplished at international, regional, and national levels.” The African Union aims to develop the African Union Border Programme (AUBP) in order to achieve these measures and goals. The AU is formulating policies that could build on the AU Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation, also known as the Niamey Convention. This Convention serves as the legal instrument of the AUBP. This programme addresses issues as border security, trade migration, infrastructure and communication on border matters, aiming at conflict prevention. The Declaration on the African Union Border Programme and its Implementation Modalities was adopted by the African Ministers in June 2007.[4]

Quo Vadis?

The key factor in this challenge is to eradicate the problem from its roots. More specifically, international actors should continue supporting the transition and the establishment of rule of law in the countries where the migrants originated, supporting investment in development and poverty eradication, supporting resilience, and enhancing sustainable livelihoods and self-reliance opportunities. The Valletta Summit Action Plan serves as a significant example of these efforts. The implementation of the content of this Action Plan is monitored by the Rabat Process, the Khartoum Process, and of the Joint EU-Africa Strategy.

Regarding the detection and combat of smuggling of migrants at sea, the missions responsible for disrupting the business model of smuggling and trafficking currently undertake concerted efforts to identify, capture, and dispose vessels as well as assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers. Operation Sophia, launched in June 2015 under the auspices of the EU, provides a notable example of these types of operations.

Another important proposal aimed at the root causes of mixed migration is Article 13 of the Cotonou Agreement, in which many countries of origin of migrants are signatories, and its amendments to be applicable to the recent developments. Article 13 includes aspects of illegal migration and examining its impact with a view to establishing, where appropriate, the means for a preventative policy. Considering the close cooperation between the IMO and European Union, members of the IMO council should urge the EU to proceed with this application of the Article which concerns the promotion of dialogue regarding migration in the framework of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP) and EU partnership and provide useful guidelines on how it can be done in an effective way.

Moreover, based on the Berlin Plus Agreement and considering the success of Operation Atalanta, whose aim is to tackle piracy, it is undoubtedly crucial to secure increased cooperation between EU and NATO and the establishment of joint operations. As part of Operation Atalanta, both the EU and NATO performed similar duties in the same operational theater but without an agreed framework, unlike operations Althea and Concordia which were under the auspices of Berlin Plus Agreement.

What motivation do states have to comply with these regulations and to provide efficient proposals and solutions in order to tackle this threat? In a globalized world we cannot be distant viewers. Activity at sea has a global impact. Even within the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (article 125) landlocked countries are specifically called out:

Land-locked States shall have the right of access to and from the sea for the purpose of exercising the rights provided for in this Convention including those relating to the freedom of the high seas and the common heritage of mankind. To this end, land-locked States shall enjoy freedom of transit through the territory of transit States by all means of transport.[5]

Considering this, no actor should stay uninvolved in this challenge. Close cooperation at the international and regional level in the medium term can prove that efficient management of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean is not a modern day illusion but a realistic possibility.

Evmorfia-Chrysovalantou Seiti is a graduate of the Master’s Program “Political, Economic and International Relations in the Mediterranean,” Department of Mediterranean Studies, University of the Aegean, Rhodes, Greece.

[1] Sekimizu, Koji. “European Coast Guard Functions Forum.” Presentation September 25, 2014, Speech available at: http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/SecretaryGeneral/SpeechesByTheSecretaryGeneral/Pages/Coastguardforum.aspx

[2] “UN Agencies meet to address unsafe mixed migration by sea.” Briefing: 4; March 4, 2015, Briefing available at: http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/Pages/04-unsafemigrationbyseaopening.aspx

[3] “Joint statement from IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu and IOM Director-General William L. Swing on enhanced cooperation and collaboration between the two Organizations.” June 29, 2015, Statement available at: https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/press_release/file/IMO-IOM-Joint-Statement-June-2015.pdf.

[4] “Human Trafficking and Smuggling on the Horn of Africa-Central Mediterranean Route.” SAHAN and IGAD Security Sector Program (ISSP); February 2016, available at: http://igad.int/attachments/1284_ISSP%20Sahan%20HST%20Report%20%2018ii2016%20FINAL%20FINAL.pdf

[5] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, available at: http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/part10.htm.

A Call for an EU Auxiliary Navy – under German Leadership

By Dr. Sebastian Bruns

A popular quote reads “A ship in port is safe. But that’s not what ships are made for.” Correspondingly, one could quip “Navies are very good in constabulary tasks. But that’s not what they’re maintained for,” echoing noted political scientist Samuel Huntington in the process. More than sixty years ago, Huntington wrote about the purpose of naval forces in the early Cold War, yet some of his thoughts have an enduring value for 2016. In the Mediterranean, not one but two naval task groups are working hard to contain a humanitarian crisis at sea. While their service is admirable and strictly necessary, even as it is only a drop in a bucket, naval capabilities which are in high demand elsewhere are bound in a mission that is only a secondary role for navies. Instead, Germany should lead the way in investing in an EU auxiliary force.

A crowded boat with migrants awaits rescue by EU NAVFOR MED.
A crowded boat with migrants awaits rescue by EU NAVFOR MED.

In May 2015, the German Navy began participating in the search and rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean north of the Libyan coast, dubbed EU NAVFOR MED (Operation “Sophia”) shortly thereafter. The pressure to act had become unbearable for political decision-makers in Berlin and Brussels after yet another devastating humanitarian catastrophe which occurred somewhere on the High Seas between Libya and Italy. An overloaded boat sank during the night of 18/19 April, costing the lives of up to 800 migrants. Hundreds others had perished in the Mediterranean during the months before. Following a European Council decision and a parliamentary green light, the German Navy dispatched the frigate Hessen (F221) and the combat support ship Berlin (A1411) to provide a presence north of Libyan territorial waters. At the time, both ships were operating off the Horn of Africa and in the Easter Mediterranean to provide the German Navy with an operational reserve. Hessen and Berlin joined a number of other EU vessels, which ranged from warships to auxiliary and coast guard ships. EU NAVFOR MED was just the latest mission that the German government engaged its shrinking military forces in; on the maritime domain alone, Germany is continuously involved in naval operations in the central Mediterranean (ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR, since 2002), off the coast of Lebanon (UNIFIL, since 2006), and on the Horn of Africa (EU NAVFOR Atalanta, since 2008). German Navy participation in one or often two of the four Standing NATO Maritime Groups, exercises, training, and out-of-the-schedule naval operations such as providing cover for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons at sea in 2014 have added pressure to (wo)men and material.

Combat support ship Berlin and frigate Hessen steam side by side in the initital provision of humanitarian assistance on the Southern flank.
Combat support ship Berlin and frigate Hessen steam side by side in the initital provision of humanitarian assistance on the Southern flank.

Cue: Queen, “Under Pressure”

Since the summer of 2015, rotating up to two ships in and out of the EU NAVFOR MED mission – such as the Berlin’s sister ship Frankfurt (A1412), or the tender Werra (A514) – put a truly severe strain on German military-operational planning. It goes without saying that adapting these venerable warships and supply vessels, which are optimized for many things other than housing, feeding, and medically caring for hundreds of castaways on board, has put a strain on the Deutsche Marine. The noble task of saving lives at sea has challenged the well-trained crews of the ships, but it hardly obscured the fundamental problem that more than two decades of defense budget cuts, strategic disorientation, and a larger disinterest in all things hard power by the German public (and most of its political masters) have caused. By default, the German Navy has turned into a low-end, operationally-minded force, where high intensity should be a design guide.

The German Navy’s dilemma, at 16,000 people and just 62 vessels at the smallest it has ever been by a December 2015 count, was illustrated best right before Christmas. In response to the November attacks in Paris, the frigate Augsburg (F213) was re-assigned from EU NAVFOR MED to provide air defense for the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. The mine hunter Weilheim (M1059), en route to return from UNIFIL to its homeport on the Baltic Sea right in time for the holidays (and probably the least-capable vessel to offer space for potentially hundreds of migrants), was tasked to remain in the Central Mediterranean. It joined the corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein (F264), another warship tasked with a humanitarian assistance task that was hardly envisioned by strategic and operational planners in Berlin and Rostock, site of the naval command. Samuel Huntington, who warned that navies should concentrate on providing high end options and not be used for low-end missions, would probably turn over in his grave. This is not to say that other countries did not have their own challenges in providing assets to the mission, but some of them are better equipped to attend to low-end missions. The Royal Navy, for instance, dispatched HMS Enterprise (H88), a multi-role hydrographic oceanographic vessel.

The corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein is currently part of Germany's contribution to EU NAVFOR MED. Germany's naval missions can sometimes be as complicated as its ship-naming policy.
The corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein is currently part of Germany’s contribution to EU NAVFOR MED. Germany’s naval missions can sometimes be as complicated as its ship-naming policy.

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail

In February 2016, the German Navy is still tied up in the EU NAVFOR MED. Privately owned platforms such as the Phoenix, operated by the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), and two vessels operated by Doctors without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontiers, MSF), the offshore supply ships Bourbon Argos and Dignity 1, have also at some point joined the operation (although they are not integrated into the EU force). At the same time, the Aegean Sea, which offers the shortest distance between Turkey and Greece, has moved into focus for human trafficking. The cold of winter has hardly deterred the refugees from mounting unseaworthy dinghies, rubber boats, or derelict fishery vessels that the criminal networks of human traffickers operate. In response, NATO stepped in and dispatched its Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2). The task force is commanded by the German rear admiral Jörg Klein and currently consists of the German Navy combat support Ship Bonn (A1413) and four frigates from Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Canada. As the New York Times noted in an article on 11 February,

“while the hastily made decision reflected the growing urgency of the situation, it was not clear that it would have much practical effect on the flow of refugees fleeing Syria’s five-year civil war: The alliance said it would not seek to block the often rickety and overcrowded migrant vessels or turn them back, and military officials were scrambling to determine precisely what role their warships would play.”

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route.
Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route.

A European Auxiliary Navy

Granted, the political leverage for European integration is low at the moment. The European Union is struggling to fend off tendencies that call not for an ever closer union, but in fact work towards dismantling some of the EU’s accomplishments in the wake of the refugee crisis. Still, with security and defense in increasing demand, including maritime security from on Europe’s southern flank, there need to be fresh ideas that can be operationalized quickly. In the face of the deteriorating relations between the West and Russia and the disintegrating Middle East, warships should contribute to the more robust stance against political aggression and hard threats, thus focusing on more of their core tasks (no doubt requiring doctrinal and conceptual re-assessments in some European capitals). This would give NATO a stronger role, and leave the EU to take care of the low-end maritime task. It could thus serve as an example of burden-sharing between the two entities.

Germany could play a leadership role in drawing up a European auxiliary navy, reenergizing the European spirit of cooperation in the process. Such a task force could have a number of political advantages. First, it would send a strong signal that European nations are willing to work together to address the ramifications of maritime trafficking. Second, Germany would address calls from inside and outside to do more. As a maritime nation with strong normative impulses, the Federal Republic would also demonstrate to the electorate (long weary of military engagement) that it is aware of the utility of naval forces in crisis response. Naturally, German investment into an auxiliary EU navy should not come at the expense of more robust naval tasks with the German Navy, but these could be better tailored if the combat support ships, frigates, and corvettes need not be used in lesser operations. Third, if and when the current migrant crisis ebbs, the European auxiliary navy could concentrate on the public diplomacy role of naval forces, providing anything from humanitarian assistance to the provision of medical services on goodwill tours around the world (like the U.S. Navy and the Chinese PLAN routinely do already). This auxiliary navy could also lend a hand to regional coastal and constabulary navies and coast guards (e.g. in West or East Africa) to train and exercise.

The last dedicated German hospital ship was the MS Helgoland, which saw extensive action in Saigon (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1972. The ship was operated by the German Red Cross.
The last dedicated German hospital ship was the MS Helgoland, which saw extensive action in Saigon (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1972. The ship was operated by the German Red Cross.

To this end, it is strictly necessary to inject some fresh thinking into how such as force could be tailored. It is imperative that an idea such as this can be put into action rather quickly before being brought to grinding snail speed by bureaucrats in Brussels or Berlin. First, one should look at the market of commercial vessels. Ro/Ro ships or offshore supply ships are available, usually even on short notice. They could be painted gray or white, manned by a mixed civilian-military crew, and quickly form the backbone of an auxiliary navy.

The Royal Navy used the Ro/Ro vessel Atlantic Conveyor in the 1982 campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. The makeshift helicopter and Harrier carrier was sunk by Argentine forces in the course of the conflict.
The Royal Navy used the Ro/Ro vessel Atlantic Conveyor in the 1982 campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. The makeshift helicopter and Harrier carrier was sunk by Argentine forces in the course of the conflict.

Other opportunities arise as well. The offshore patrol vessel L’Adroit (P725) is a demonstrator vessel built by French shipbuilder DCNS and was placed at the disposal of the French Navy for three years, a period that is now drawing to a close. The ship could be introduced as a French contribution to the auxiliary navy, which need not limit itself to state-run ships. If done properly, NGOs like SOS Mediterranee could be integrated (the non-profit organization operates the MS Aquarius, a former German fishery protection vessel). The former rescue cruiser Minden, built in 1985 and serviced by volunteers from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service, will join what is already emerging as a multinational, civilian, and military task force in the Mediterranean.

The former SAR cruiser Minden, for thirty years operated in the North Sea and Baltic Sea by an NGO, will soon begin rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
The former SAR cruiser Minden, for thirty years operated in the North Sea and Baltic Sea by an NGO, will soon begin rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

In the medium term, one could consider the charter of vessels which could be converted quickly as dedicated hospital ships, also crewed by civilian mariners and military. A logistics ship would also come in handy, as well as a simplistic command platform. To provide range, ships taken up from trade (not such a novel concept after all) could be selected if they provide the opportunity to operate reconnaissance drones or helicopters. In the long term, there are even further ideas that could be floated. For example, the 2016 German federal budget has earmarked the procurement of three new patrol vessels for the Bundespolizei See, Germany’s quasi Coast Guard. It is entirely plausible that these ships could also be detached as part of the EU’s auxiliary fleet, akin to NATO’s SNMGs – that is, if Germany politically resolves its constitutional conflict between police and military jurisdiction and respective responsibilities. To go even further, the German Navy is currently in the early stages of procuring the future multi-role combat ship MKS180, designed as a modular warship. Is it too far-fetched to consider adding a civilian variant, a MKS180CIV, for the auxiliary “Great EU White Fleet”?

The German Navy's next project: Multi-role combat ships MKS180 (artist conception).
The German Navy’s next project: Multi-role combat ships MKS180 (artist conception).

To be clear: Such an auxiliary navy would have to be organized, trained, and equipped properly. This requires financial and political investments. The task force, more of a 10-ship navy than a 100- or even 1000-ship navy, would provide a vision for European cooperation. EU or United Nations mandates would be desirable. It appears that it is also a much more sensible road leading to further defense and security cooperation than political soap-box oratories about the need for a European army could ever do. Politically and operationally, it could provide Berlin with a sense of regaining some degree of initiative when it comes to maritime security.

Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Naval Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel (Germany). He is the editor of “The Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security” (Routledge: London 2016). 

EUNAVFOR: Switching from pirates to migrants?

A human disaster is currently happening in the Mediterranean Sea where more than 10,000 migrants have been picked up as they attempted to enter Europe from Libya. The International Organization for Migration estimates that nearly 1,830 migrants have died on the sea route this year compared to 207 in the same period last year.

Traffickers started taking advantage of the breakdown of authority in Libya to pack boats with paying migrants willing to cross the sea for a better life. Meanwhile, the European operation against piracy in the Indian Ocean (EUNAVFOR Atalanta) has become a reference for possible maritime operation in the Mediterranean against those traffickers.

EUNAVFOR: an operation meant to fight piracy

Operation Atalanta, as of June 2015. Along with AoR.

Created in 2008 as an operation to protect merchant ships against pirate attacks, mainly in the Gulf of Aden and particularly in the IRTC (International Recommended Transit Corridor) put in place to make sure vessels from the World Food Programme would reach the populations in need, Atalanta has become much more than a simple EU joint operation.

If the destruction of ships was not part of the original objectives of Atalanta, its actions soon grew offensive: in spring 2010, 18 months after its start, Atalanta adopted enhanced intelligence and surveillance methods allowing it to disrupt both “pirate bases” and pirate ships.

The tactics used by the EU operation (and by other forces) to enter a maximum of mother ships (not simple skiffs) was one of the operation’s success vectors. But those vessels were empty most of the time and no collateral risk was therefore expected.

Recognition means and intelligence

Operation Atalanta has strong recognition means with several maritime patrol aircraft based in different parts of the Indian Ocean (mainly in Djibouti and Seychelles) to regularly cover the area. From time to time, an AWACS aircraft is also required to lead strategic surveillance of the zone. And at the tactical level, some vessels (mainly Dutch) used maritime drones.

The interrogation of arrested pirates is a very important source of information and merchant ships that cross the zone play an important role in passing information to the  Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa, the maritime information centre set up at Northwood military headquarters in the UK and the various information collected in neighbouring countries (Kenya or Djibouti).

The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) is an initiative established by EU NAVFOR with close co-operation from industry. It provides 24-hour manned monitoring of vessels transiting through the Gulf of Aden, whilst the provision of an interactive website enables the Centre to communicate the latest anti-piracy guidance to industry, and for shipping companies and operators to register their vessels’ movements through the region.

Owners and operators who have vessels transiting the region are strongly encouraged to register their movements with MSCHOA to improve their security and reduce the risk of attacks or capture. Additionally, the “Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy” (BMP) and further information about combating piracy, and what action to take should they come under attack, can be downloaded on the MSCHOA’s website.

A further initiative was the introduction of Group Transits; vessels are co-ordinated to transit together through the IRTC. This enables military forces to “sanitise” the area ahead of the merchant ships. MSCHOA also identifies particularly vulnerable shipping and co-ordinate appropriate protection arrangements, either from within Atalanta, or other forces in the region.

In 2012, the need for ground actions was put forward.

Operations on land

In 2008, the crew of the Ponant, a French ship has been reported as having been taken in hostage by one of the four most powerful local groups, the Somali marines, who usually launched their operations from Garaad.

After the release of the Ponant, Admiral Gillier launched a helicopter raid by boarding commandos to intercept pirates on land. This air raid took place with the agreement of the Somali government. This is the only time where pirates were followed on land after the ransom was paid. The question was asked if the extension of Atalanta’s mandate would allow armed forces to track pirates on land. In April 2012, authorizations to destroy the logistics depots, i.e. “pirates bases” was obtained. These actions were also a way of saying to pirates “we can reach you anywhere.” This possibility of ground action, however, has been used only once, in May 2012, in an action by the Spanish navy. It was apparently enough to convince some local leaders that it was too dangerous for them to help pirates.

Recent actions in Yemen

In the margin of Atalanta, the French patrol boat L’Adroit was deployed on March 30, for two weeks off the Yemeni coast, where he led the evacuation of 23 French nationals from Aden, in difficult conditions. L’Adroit also escorted several Yemeni dhow between the ports of Djibouti and Al Mukah, contributing to the evacuation of nearly a thousand people from Yemen, including more than 500 Djiboutian refugees. The French ship then made call in Djibouti to refuel. Several authorities went on board, including the Ambassador of France to Djibouti, to congratulate the crew for its actions. L’Adroit now resumes his patrol off the Somali coast as part of the EU mission Atalanta to fight against piracy.

EUNAVFOR MED: Switching from pirates to migrants?

Operation Triton, as of June 2015.  Along with Malta’s SRR AoR.

This triple action: information, sea destruction and destruction on land was recently considered as a model for a possible CSDP operation against human traffickers in the Mediterranean. On 23rd April, an extraordinary European Council gathered to speak on the sensitive subject of migrants in the Mediterranean.According to a draft declaration, EU leaders turn towards Atalanta to reduce –if not end- the shipwrecks of migrants. We must “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy the ships before they are used by traffickers”, the document reported.

The head of European diplomacy,Federica Mogherini, “was invited to immediately begin preparations for a possible security and defence operation, in accordance with international law.” The head of the Italian Government, Matteo Renzi, even requested the examination of the possibility of conducting “targeted interventions” against smugglers in Libya, which over the years became the country of embarkation of migrants and asylum applicants towards Italy and Malta.

If accepted, the organization of the EU military operation would be a first in the fight against illegal immigration but, of course, its implementation would take time. But in order to do destroy boats in Libya, a legal mandate is required from the UN. The ground action possibility for the Atalanta naval force in Somalia was almost never used because of its difficulty. EU leaders also need to think about measures to intervene during the crossing of migrant boats. And this would probably require giving more money to Frontex, the EU’s border control agency. However, the destruction of ships used by migrants already takes place at sea.

There are three main reasons for this:

First, abandoned vessels are a hazard to navigation, especially at night, when, because of their size and lack of lighting, they cannot be seen, even in good weather. Second, a ship lost at sea can be seen from an airplane and it is not always clear if anyone is onboard. To maintain the high quality of emergency rescue at sea, it is necessary to destroy those boats immediately after all migrants have been evacuated.Third, abandoning a vessel could lead to the risk of it being used once again by a new team of traffickers.

For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has officially confirmed on the 19th May during a joint press conference with President Hollande, that, since the beginning of sea rescue operations where the German navy was involved, “five inflatable boats and a wooden boat were sunk”.

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, declared: “the fundamental point is not so much the destruction of the vessels but it is the destruction of the business model of the traffickers. If you look at business model of the traffickers and the flows of money involved in trafficking, it may be that that money is financing terrorist activities.” Stressing the same point, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “one of the problems is that there might be foreign fighters, there might be terrorists, also trying to hide, to blend in on the smugglings vessels trying to cross over into Europe.”

Know your enemy!

On 18th May, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence of the 27 Member States of the EU (Denmark opted out of the common defence agreement after the Danish ‘no’ vote at the Maastricht referendum in June 1992) gave their “green light” to EUNAVFOR Med. Since the United Nations did not take any resolution yet, the operation should start with a first phase: the exchange of information and intelligence. This is fundamental, since, without an accurate tracking of information concerning different traffickers, different means employed, etc., it would be almost impossible to fight this traffic. This means air observation (maritime surveillance aircraft, UAVs, helicopters …) and imaging (radars, satellites, etc.).

Furthermore, if the goal is to neutralize these networks and to bring the perpetrators to justice, it is necessary, indeed, to have specific evidence against them. Laws also need to be updated to arrest traffickers on the high seas.

It will not be too difficult to organize action in the Libyan waters since most of the interested navies such as Greece, Italy, France, Spain etc. are already almost positioned in the international waters near Libya. The Mediterranean is really a “mare nostrum”. All European marine meet there to participate in combined manoeuvres (within NATO in general) or to visit the Indian Ocean – to participate in the anti-piracy operation in the operation of allies in Iraq, etc. – So, the cost for the navies to act through EUNAVFOR Med is reduced.

The General Operations Quarter installed in Rome, is already operational as it is currently used for Triton operation conducted under the aegis of Frontex (the European border control agency). Its military commander is Credendino Enrico, an Italian admiral. After this first phase centred on intelligence gathering and surveillance of smuggling routes leading from Libya to southern Italy and Malta, EU ships would start chasing and boarding the smugglers’ boats in a second phase. Summer is the high season for trafficking; this is why it is necessary to act quickly.

A dramatic situation but where is solidarity?

Despite the show of unity on the military action, the EU appears increasingly divided on the question of mandatory numbers of asylum seekers which should be accepted by member states, according to population size, wealth, and the number of migrants already hostel, as proposed by the European Commission on 13th May.

Ten countries have already spoke out against it, namely Spain, France, Britain and Hungary. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the proposed quota for Spain doesn’t take into account the nation’s sky-high jobless rate of 24 percent and its efforts to prevent illegal migration from African nations. Police in the Sicilian port of Ragusa, meanwhile, arrested five Africans suspected of navigating a rubber life raft packed with migrants that was intercepted at sea last week. Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has said the plan is “madness” and France’s Manuel Valls called it “a moral and ethical mistake”.

Why are all politicians so afraid to hold a hand to migrants? In 1979, French politicians and intellectuals put their disagreements aside and welcomed more than 128,531 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees, fleeing communism and ethnic persecution, not knowing where to go.” Jean-Paul Sartre and Raymond Aron, two intellectuals, who were politically opposed, gathered around a common cause. A few months earlier, this heterogeneous coalition was established to charter a boat, with MSF, to travel around the South China Sea and bring relief and assistance to boat people in distress.

France hosted and helped migrants to settle and be integrated on its soil. Much of the Asian community in France, especially in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris, is the result of this wave of immigration of boat people fleeing the former French colonies in Indochina.

Today, thousands of men and women are fleeing war in Syria – a former territory managed by France-,or the dictatorship in Eritrea, or the poverty of sub-Saharan Africa and no one is there to hand them a hand. David Cameron recently announced that he would send a ship of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean but any migrant rescued by the British Navy would be deposited on the coasts of the closest countries, probably Italy.

We can find thousand of reasons not to help these people but I have one question: when did we stop being human?

After studying law and international relations, Alix started working on the first cycle of conferences “Defence and Environment: a new way of thinking” about the impact of defense activities on the environment. Alix served as a Navy officer and a political adviser to the New Zealand Consul in New Caledonia.  Since 2013, Alix is also the Asia-Pacific market analyst for the French and English publications of Marine Renewable Energy as a renewable energy consultant. She currently lives in New Caledonia. She is writing a PhD on the law of marine energy resources.

Louis Martin-Vézian is the co-president of the French chapter of CIMSEC, and produces maps and infographics features on CIMSEC and other websites. His graphics and research were used by GE Aviation and Stratfor among others.

How to Negotiate with Pirates

M/V Iceberg: Waiting is the hardest part.
        M/V Iceberg: Waiting when your ship’s come in.

Despite having declared a ‘comprehensive approach’ to Somalia, linking security with development, and launching the EUNAVFOR mission in December 2008, the European Union (EU) has neglected an important piece of the counter-piracy solution: negotiations for the release of European hostages held by pirates. The EU should adopt a consistent EU policy concerning the payment of ransom to pirates, set up an EU negotiation team, and identify and promulgate specific best practices in negotiation strategies.

The reduction of piracy in the Gulf of Aden is the consequence of many actions undertaken by several actors. The previous Force Commander of EUNAVFOR, Rear Admiral Philippe Coindreau, declared the “results are due to the combination of EUNAVFOR’s action, […] the use, by the maritime community, of systematic security measures on merchant vessels and high-quality cooperation with other naval forces and independent Navies”. According to Xavier Larreur, a NATO official, this is also partly due to Puntland’s efforts in arresting pirates.

However, while piracy in the Indian Ocean is on the wane, it is not yet beaten. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) states that five boats and 77 hostages are still held by Somali pirates. In the beginning of June, a failed attack on the Indian ship Shaahi al Nuuri in the Indian Ocean led the head of operation of the EU Naval Force, Rear Admiral Bob Tarrant, to declare: “This latest attack once again shows that the threat of piracy is real. We must all remain vigilant. Earlier in the week – according to our information – several “suspicious approaches” in the Gulf of Aden were reported, but without shooting or boarding attempts.”Attacks will rise again if the naval presence is reduced or if vessels relax their vigilance.

Somali pirates are clearly organized: “Everything that you would need to run a cruise ship line, short of the entertainment, you need to run a piracy operation” says J. Peter Pham from James Madison University in Virginia. A pirate attack can cost as little as $15,000 dollars to set up and only 15 to 30 minutes to execute. But waiting for the ransom can last months.

Negotiations are the solution of last resort, taken only when preventive measures have failed to protect the ships from hijacking. Once hijacked, ransom should be paid only if it is too risky for the naval forces to attack the hijacked ship. This is typically the case, as most ships taken hostage by pirates are released by ransom rather than force, the actors involved preferring to avoid rescue missions because of the high risk of casualties. Fortunately, as pirates are not terrorists, there is not as strong a prohibition of negotiating with them for the release of hostages.

However, this solution of last resort can’t be handled individually. To avoid an increase in the amount of ransom and violence against hostages, it is necessary that Europeans better organize and coordinate the conduct of negotiations with pirates. The EU needs to create a crisis management team to provide a coordinated response to every ransom demand. By knowing how high the ransom was for each category of ship, and by understanding pirates’ negotiations styles, the EU could try to keep the price down. Indeed, countries that easily pay ransom such as Greece and Italy are paying sky-rocketing amounts. Pirates have now been securing equal or greater value for previously less-hijacked vessels. Therefore, a coordinated response could help reduce the business of piracy, or at least to not make it so attractive that new pirates get on the market, by setting a standard cap on the payment of ransoms.

A standing crisis management team would also gather and share intelligence on pirate groups to better fight them and facilitate any negotiations. Social networks, widely used by pirates, would improve knowledge of individuals and groups operating in the area. The EU’s effort must be modern – not left behind because of a heavy bureaucratic structure. Once hostages are freed, the crisis management team could systematically collect additional information on the organization of these criminal networks, working with EUROPOL and INTERPOL, who already trace criminal financial flows arising from payment of ransom.

This model can also be applied to other areas of pirate activity. The IMB again reports that the number of acts of piracy recorded off the West African coast in 2012 exceeded for the first time the attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, with 966 sailors attacked in the Gulf of Guinea, against 851 sailors off the coast of Somalia. The cost of goods stolen by West African pirates is estimated at between $34-101 million. On June 24th, the heads of state of Central and West African nations, gathered in Yaounde, Cameroon, for a summit on security in the Gulf of Guinea, requesting the deployment of an international naval force to fight piracy off their coasts.

Negotiations won’t work in every instance and they should not last long. Lengthier negotiations have not proven more successful in reducing the amount of the ransom, and their impact on the mental and physical health of hostages can be significant. In the case of the M/V Iceberg, the crew was abandoned by the owners, who did not have the requisite shipping insurance to pay a ransom. The crew was kept hostage and tortured for three years, which is the longest pirate hijacking in modern maritime history. Another tragic hijacking was the one of the Beluga Nomination, in which a sailor was killed during a failed bid to free the ship. It should be standard EU policy at some early point for the crisis team to determine whether the risk to the mariners of continued negotiations and unliklihood of an acceptable deal outweighs the risk of a rescue attempt. There is no certainty an EU crisis management team would have prevented these tragedies, but the lives of these sailors and the potential to reduce both the human and economic costs is worth it.

Alix is a political advisor in New Caledonia. She previously served as an officer in the French Navy, specialising in maritime law and maritime threats such as overfishing and piracy. Her masters thesis details the fight of the European Union against piracy.

To learn more about this subject, she suggests reading: