Tag Archives: Mediterranean

The Med Migrant Crisis and Defend Europe

By Claude Berube and Chris Rawley

This summer while many European vacationers bask on sunny Mediterranean beaches, out in the water, hundreds of people are fighting for their lives while an increasingly more complex and robust collection of maritime non-government organizations (NGOs) (see Table 1) alternatively try to rescue them from drowning or send them back to Africa. The line between maritime human trafficking and a flow of refugees at sea has been blurred. In response to the ongoing migrant wave, the group Defend Europe recently raised enough money to charter a 422-ton ship, the C-Star, to convey a team of its activists to Libya. They arrived in the search-and-rescue zone off the Libyan coast on August 4-5. 

The authors understand the complexities of this situation in the central Mediterranean particularly with regard to strongly held political positions by both sides. We try not to take sides in political battles, especially as we sit on the board of directors of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Our interest is simply to discuss how organizations use the sea as a venue to proactively accomplish their own goals and deter their opponents’ goals. Our piece at War on the Rocks discusses the search-and-rescue NGOs and the approaching counter-NGO ship C-Star. As it has arrived on station off Libyan territorial waters, we spoke with Thorsten Schmidt, spokesman for Defend Europe.

What is the C-Star’s mission?  “We came to the conclusion,” Schmidt says, “to get activists who are independent and fair. We need to get our own ship to get people there and to observe the left-wing NGOs.” Schmidt contends that the media has been embedded with the NGOs and therefore have a bias in support of their work. When asked if C-Star had an embedded reporter or asked for a reporter from any media organization, he stated that they just wanted their own activists to report with cameras.

C-Star from the perspective of the vessel Aquarius on August 5 around 20 nm off the Libyan coast. (via Paco Anselmi/Twitter)

The search-and-rescue (SAR) NGOs have operated between Libya and Sicily for two years. When Defend Europe began to consider their own maritime mission, they were approached by the owner of a ship to charter. The ship was the C-Star (formerly the Suunta – a Djibouti-flagged floating armory in the Red Sea). The owner is Sven Tomas Egerstrom, formerly associated with the Cardiff-based Sea Marshals which he was terminated from on 26 March 2014. Although there have been some questions as to whether C-Star has armed guards aboard, it is unlikely. Schmidt told us that the ship had no weapons aboard. More practically, we assessed in our previous piece that Defend Europe does not have the funds to support a ship for an extended mission beyond two weeks as well as the more costly endeavor of an armed guard team. Ships transiting the Gulf of Aden will only pay armed guards for a few days. That is a function of both need and cost in higher-risk areas.

The ship was detained both as it transited the Suez Canal and when it pulled in to Famagusta, Cyprus. It is unknown what exactly happened. Several reports suggested the ship had false documents or was transporting foreign nationals to Europe. Schmidt states that in both cases the authorities found nothing on the ships.

Once on station, C-Star will spend a week in the company of search-and-rescue NGOs and on the lookout for both migrant boats and human traffickers. Their cameras will be their weapons. According to Schmidt, nine out of ten migrants using the sea do not migrate from war-torn countries as refugees. When they reach the Libyan coast, he says, human traffickers put them on gray rafts and enough food and fuel to get to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit of Libya where search-and-rescue NGOs then pick up the migrants and take them to Europe. The traffickers use smaller, high-speed boats to follow the rafts then, when the NGOs have rescued the migrants, the traffickers take the motors and return them to Libya. Schmidt notes that in some cases, the traffickers join the migrants so that they can establish networks in Sicily and beyond. Italian authorities in Lampedusa this week seized the Iuventa, owned by the SAR NGO Jugend Rettet, accusing them of aiding and abetting traffickers.

NGO Rescue Vessels off the Libyan Coast – 30 July 2017 (via MarineTraffic.com)

If C-Star encounters a migrant boat in distress, Schmidt says it will render assistance first by notifying the MRCC in Rome, and then bring them aboard. According to Schmidt, the ship has “hundreds of life vests.” When asked about how it might accommodate for potentially dozens of refugees from a boat in distress, he says “the ship is fully equipped with an extra amount of water and food. Of course there are several activists on board with medical aid skills.” Instead of taking the migrants to Sicily or other European ports, they intend to take the migrants to closer, non-European ports such as in Tunisia. It is unknown if they have secured the diplomatic agreements to make those transfers happen. Defend Europe argues that this makes sense since there are closer countries than Italy that aren’t unstable like Libya.

Defend Europe wants an end to human trafficking but, as Schmidt says, “we are just one ship and you can’t stop it with just one ship…We are an avant garde but need help.” Though they have an abbreviated mission this time, the $185,000 they have raised ensures that they will look to a second and third mission. Already, he says, two more ship owners have contacted them.

Table 1: NGO Rescue & Interdiction Vessels Operating in the Mediterranean

OrganizationVesselGross TonnageFlag
Jugend Rettet IUVENTA184 Netherlands
Lifeboat Project MindenUnk.Germany
MOASPhoenix483 Belize
MOASTopaz Responder1198Marshall Islands
MSFBourbon Argos2343Luxembourg
MSFDignity I648 Panama
MSFVos Prudence 2937Italy
Proactiva Open Arms AstralUnk.United Kingdom
Proactiva Open Arms Golfo Azzurro*350 Panama
Proactiva Open Arms Open Arms427 Spain
Save the ChildrenVos Hestia1678 Italy
Sea EyeSee-EyeUnk.Netherlands
Sea EyeSeefuchsUnk.Netherlands
Sea WatchSea Watch-2Unk.Netherlands
SOS MéditerranéeAquarius1812Gibraltar
Defend EuropeC-Star422Mongolia

Claude Berube teaches at the United States Naval Academy and is an officer in the Navy Reserve. He has published three non-fiction books and two novels. Follow him on Twitter @cgberube. Chris Rawley is a Navy Reserve surface warfare officer and entrepreneur. Follow him on Twitter @navaldrones. Rawley and Berube frequently write and speak on maritime organizations and both serve on the Board of Directors of CIMSEC. The views expressed are theirs alone and not of any organization with which they are affiliated.

Featured Image: A banner reading ‘Stop Human Trafficking’ attached to the side of the C-Star. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP)

Integrating Maritime Security Operations in the Mediterranean

Maritime Security Topic Week

By Evmorfia-Chrysovalantou Seiti


The European Union represents the latest stage of the larger European integration that began at the end of World War II, initially by six Western European countries to promote peace, security and economic development. Undoubtedly, European countries managed to overcome their dark past and the cruelty of World War II; today, the European Union has 28 member states, including former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Member states have pooled sovereignty in certain policy areas and harmonized laws on a wide range of economic, social, and political issues. These developments prove that European countries realize that the things that unite them are more than the things that divide them, and only through strengthening cooperation and promoting dialogue can they establish the peace and security in European continent and beyond.1

The EU project can be characterized as successful and a cornerstone of European stability and prosperity. The European Union, beyond other areas of cooperation, has developed common foreign and security policies. From 2003 until the present date, the European Union has executed around thirty civilian and military operations on three continents. Their aim was to deal effectively with crises in those regions. Significant examples include peace-building after the tsunami disaster in Indonesia, operations for protecting refugees in Mali and the Central African Republic, and combating piracy in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

Despite this, a paradox exists. Under the existence of this ambitious policy and after more than thirty operations through the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), political interest in national capitals in acting through the EU’s CSDP has been declining.2 It is important to point out that the reasons member states should have high political interest in acting through the CSDP are more compelling that those that limit shared interest.

Additionally, some European policymakers and analysts have characterized the European integration project as a bicycle, which must keep going forward to avoid falling over. Imbalance can cause a number of problems, such as the Greek debt crisis, the migration and refugee crisis, the June 23, 2016, United Kingdom referendum on EU membership, a resurgent Russia, and heightened terrorism. These are some of the factors that caused the increase of unemployment in many EU countries, economic and political pressures, and the rise of political parties with “Eurosceptic” ideas.In one of the toughest periods of its history, some members of the European Union are creating dividing lines instead of trying to provide a common and effective response. Also, the voices and opinions on the future of European Union and the vision of European integration remain divided between those who are supporting the European project (and believe that it will continue to exist despite the serious challenges it is facing) and, from the other side, those who believe that those challenges would bring the collapse of the European project.

This article will focus on the current challenges in the Mediterranean, and how those challenges can be a pillar of integration for the Common Security and Defense Policy of the European Union.

The European Union and the Mediterranean

Why the Mediterranean? The Mediterranean region is characterized by crises and revolutionary changes that affect the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe, as well as trans-Atlantic stakes in these regions. In the meantime, the strategic environment in the Mediterranean is increasingly shaped by forces emanating from outside the region, more specifically from the Levant and the Eurasian and African hinterlands, the Black Sea, and from the Atlantic Basin. As a result, these shifts in the strategic environment have brought the progressive globalization of Mediterranean security.4

The Mediterranean Sea is connected with the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar and the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. Traditionally, it was a sea passage for internal European trade and imports from Africa and Asia. A powerful coalition and multilateral body such as the EU should adapt to the new challenges and threats, which are a result of the systemic context. The EU’s aim is to ensure stability and to avoid any kind of activities that could damage maritime security or bring danger to the life of individuals.

Although the European Union is not the only interested party, the involvement of external actors is inevitable. This work will analyze the external actors present in the Mediterranean and the schemes of cooperation for preventing a spillover effect, which can not only impact the European continent but global affairs.

The Main Challenges in the Mediterranean

Maritime Terrorism

After September 11, 2001, NATO initiated Operation Active Endeavor. This operation has achieved a high degree of visibility and contributed to “good governance” in the Mediterranean Sea and the straits of Gibraltar.Despite this progress, there have been setbacks, including the 2014 hijacking of an Egyptian Navy patrol craft, which took place along the Mediterranean coast 40 miles north of the Seaport of Damietta, and again when 21 Egyptian Christians were kidnapped in two separate incidents in the coastal city of Sirte.6 Both criminal activities were posed by militant groups that have declared allegiance to Islamic State, raising the concern for terrorist activities in Mediterranean Sea, which could cause damage to international shipping and port infrastructure.7

Expanding their activities at sea, terrorists could attack unguarded cruise ships plying Mediterranean waters. Only one attack like this would be enough to spread images of western tourists being murdered and provide the powerful publicity desired. At equal risk are vessels and ports from which terrorists would gain publicity and financial gain. For instance, hijacking a cruise ship provides only one potential scenario. Ungoverned coastal areas of Libya would make a good launch pad for terrorists, although the incidents in Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia can show that much of the Maghreb could provide a point of origin for attackers.8

Irregular Migration

Concurrent conflicts and turbulence from sub-Saharan Africa to Pakistan are generating waves of economic and political migrants desperate to reach the relative prosperity of southern Europe.9 The range of their mobility is striking. Almost 2 million refugees have fled to or through Turkey since the start of the war in Syria, and many more have crossed to Jordan and Lebanon. Over one million Christians have fled Iraq, and over half of a million more have fled from Syria. The annual number of migrants registered as having been arrested and deported in the EU; the figure is somewhere around 500,000. However, there are only estimates of the total number of irregular migrants that reached European maritime borders. The number ranges from 4,000,000 up to 8,000,000.10 Tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean by sea in recent years, 6,000 to Italy alone. Over 3,000 died in the Mediterranean in 2014, comprising the vast majority of the estimated 4,000 migration deaths worldwide in the same period. The Mediterranean region is in the grips of a human security crisis, a crisis affecting the security and the welfare of individuals, unprecedented since the end of World War II.11


The International Maritime Organization’s 2011 annual report on acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships identified 10 different regions prone to maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships of the world:

  • East Africa
  • Indian Ocean
  • West Africa
  • Arabian Sea
  • Malacca Strait
  • South China Sea
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • North Atlantic
  • Regions that are classified “Others”

Regarding “others,” in these regions, the occurrence of the two crimes are at a very low rate or even rare. Moreover, incidents such as the 2009 hijacking of “M/V Arctic Sea” in the Baltic prove that even the most secure maritime spaces in the world can be affected by maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships.12

The Mediterranean Sea doesn’t currently sustain a realistic threat in terms of modern-day piracy as we now know it. Unlike the Indian Ocean, it is enclosed and very well policed, surveyed, and trafficked. The entire area is also within easy rapid reach of sophisticated military and naval resources. However, more clandestine (and arguably more damaging) operations are perfectly feasible. It is no secret that obvious targets include port facilities, berthed vessels, outlying transport structures, and logistical hubs.

Other challenges arise from the Atlantic approaches to the Mediterranean, where new trafficking routes from Latin America to West Africa are bringing drugs, arms, and money onward through the Maghreb to Europe. Drawn to West Africa’s penetrable borders and anemic state and security institutions, new distribution routes have been created by drug traffickers, resulting in an inflow of cocaine into the region.13

Cooperation with External Actors

EU-NATO Joint Declaration

A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Police was adopted on June 2016. On November 14, 2016, ministers agreed on a new level of ambition in security and defense. 16 days later, on November 30, 2016, the European Commission adopted the European Defense Action Plan. This plan “comprises a European Defense Fund and other actions to help member states boost research and spend more efficiently on joint defense capabilities, thus fostering a competitive and innovative defense industrial base and contributing to enhance European citizens’ security.”14

Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Charlottetown conducted a cooperative boarding on the Togolese flag merchant vessel (MV) Byblos as part of NATO’s counter-terrorism Operation Active Endeavour. (MARFOR)

On December 6, 2016, the Council of the European Union and Foreign Ministers of NATO adopted a common set of proposals for EU-NATO cooperation. This follows from the Joint Declaration signed by EU leaders and the NATO Secretary General on July 2016. They agreed on a set of actions, including 42 concrete proposals for implementation in seven areas of cooperation: “Countering hybrid threats, operational cooperation including maritime issues; cyber security and defence, defence capabilities, parallel and coordinated exercises and defence, defence industry and research and security capacity-building.”15 Facing common challenges, the cooperation between European Union and NATO is more important than ever.

In particular, in December of 2016, the European Union and NATO agreed to enhance the cooperation and coordination between Operation Sea Guardian, a flexible maritime operation created by NATO that can perform a wide range of maritime security tasks,16 and EU NAVFOR MED Sophia, which started on June 22, 2015 and ceased operations July 27, 2017 and was formed to disrupt the business of human smuggling and trafficking in the Mediterranean and prevent loss of life at sea.17 The EU and NATO agreed to enhance the cooperation of these operations through information sharing, logistical support, and practical interaction.

Moreover, they agreed to build upon synergies between the EU operation and NATO in the Aegean. In support of the above goals, the EU and NATO will continue to make full use of the mechanism of Shared Awareness and Deconfliction in the Mediterranean (SHADE MED). SHADE MED is a forum where stakeholders, nations, or organizations that are affected by migratory phenomenon in the Mediterranean can meet, de-conflict, and coordinate their maritime security operations. This can be achieved by sharing situational awareness as well as assessing the evolution of trends and best practices.18 Furthermore, seminars will be held in the early part of 2017 to build on experiences from the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean and on interactions in the Mediterranean.19

Integrating Mediterranean Maritime Security

And finally, why can maritime security in the Mediterranean be an integration pillar for the Common Security and Defense Policy? First, continued fiscal austerity could possibly impact the already limited defense expenditures in Southern Europe and give rise to new security concerns. Having an integrated approach can prevent and efficiently manage the existing threats in the Mediterranean which became even more challenging and complicated after the outbreak of the Arab Spring. The percentage of refugees and migrants who are trying to reach Europe by crossing Mediterranean has skyrocketed.20 Also, the incidents of terrorist activities in Mediterranean coasts, the threat of piracy attacks, as well as the fact that the Mediterranean has become a route of trafficking, drugs, arms, people, and money.

Another important factor which should increase efforts for further cooperation within the CSDP is the circulation of foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere to the battlefields of the Levant and back. This phenomenon is not new, although the sheer size and widespread nature of the problem has given it a totally new dimension. Terrorist attacks and counterterrorism operations in France, Belgium, Denmark and Germany, highlight the nature of the threat.21 Terrorists could find a number of other ways to use the sea to carry out threats, such as using explosives to damage vessels, passengers and crews, or surrounding areas. They could also use vessels to transport explosives and other chemical, biological, or nuclear materials, including fissile material to use ashore.

Related to the external actors in the region, European Union member states should enhance their cooperation within the CDSP due to the declining interest of the United States in maintaining a strong presence in the Mediterranean due to competing priorities elsewhere. Washington has always put pressure on Europe to do more for its own security, and will likely increase this pressure in the future.22

From the other side, in June 2013, Russia announced that it would permanently maintain about a dozen warships in the Mediterranean for its national security. After a period of weakness and instability during the 1990s, the Federation is reappearing on the international scene as a major security player, claiming the status of a great power. The Russian Federation is affirming its global role and its activities in the Mediterranean as a part of a wider strategy shaped by a flowing interplay of internal and external influences. Russia has many ‘cards to play’ and it is playing some of them expertly.23

Russia, as the other actors in the region, is seeking some combination of economic and security gains in the Mediterranean while also trying to build or rebuild economic and security ties. According to General Philip Breedlove, then NATO’s top commander: “Tartus may also be part of a Russian effort to establish an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) bubble over Syria, designed to prevent NATO forces from taking offensive action against Russia and its allies in the region.” These ambitions are illustrated by the Russia’s new Maritime Strategy, the Maritime Doctrine of Russian Federation 2020. This strategy includes the Mediterranean Sea, claiming that the aim of the Russian Federation is to re-establish a Russian Navy presence there.24 


Based on these developments the European Union, a global maritime player, cannot remain uninvolved, and especially when its own interests and the peace and security of its citizens are affected directly by the situation in Mediterranean basin. The above examples shows that this threat cannot be tackled effectively when each member state is acting individually and there is a lack of compromise. Cooperation under the CSDP is linked to military deployment, and the CSDP creates fertile ground for cooperation and dialogue between the EU member states and cooperation with external actors.

The European Union as a security and defense actor cannot remain a distant viewer when security challenges in the Mediterranean are more rapidly emerging. Those threats do not concern only the countries of the “front line” but all the EU member states. Maritime security in the Mediterranean region can be an integration pillar for the Common Security and Defense Policy as recent events prove, although many more challenges are still yet to come.

Evmorfia-Chrysovalantou Seiti is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science and International Studies in University of Warsaw, Poland and she is working in a multinational corporation dealing with banking and financial services. She holds an MA in Political, Economic and International Relations in the Mediterranean from the University of the Aegean. Her primary areas of research are European Security, European Maritime Security Strategy towards Mediterranean and Euro-Mediterranean Politics.


1. Kristin Archick, ‘’The European Union: Current Challenges and Future Prospects’’, Congressional Research Service, June 2016, available at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44249.pdf

2. Daniele Keohane, ‘’The Paradox of  EU Defence Policy’’, European Geostrategy, Vol. 8, No.9 (2016) available at http://www.europeangeostrategy.org/2016/03/the-paradox-of-eu-defence-policy/

3. Available at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44249.pdf

4. Ian O. Lesser, ‘’The United States and the Future of Mediterranean Security: Reflections from GMF’s Mediterranean Strategy Group’’, Policy Brief Mediterranean Policy Program, April 2015, The German Marshall Fund of the United States

5. ‘’Maritime Security in the Mediterranean: Challenges and Policy Responses’’, Security and Defence Agenda Discussion Paper, June 2011 available at https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/130716/Maritime_Discussion_Paper_FINAL.pdf

6. ‘’ISIS video appears to show beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya’’, CNN, February 16, 2015 available at http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/15/middleeast/isis-video-beheadings-christians/

7. Mark William Lowe, ‘’MSS in depth: The Threat of Maritime Terrorism’’, Med Security Summit, September 16-18, 2015 available at http://www.medsecuritysummit.com/wp-content/uploads/MSS-InDepth-May-2015.pdf

8. Mark William Lowe, ‘’MSS in depth: The Threat of Maritime Terrorism’’, Med Security Summit, September 16-18, 2015 available at http://www.medsecuritysummit.com/wp-content/uploads/MSS-InDepth-May-2015.pdf

9. Ian O. Lesser, ‘’The United States and the Future of Mediterranean Security: Reflections from GMF’s Mediterranean Strategy Group’’, Policy Brief Mediterranean Policy Program, April 2015, The German Marshall Fund of the United States

10. Ian O. Lesser, ‘’The United States and the Future of Mediterranean Security: Reflections from GMF’s Mediterranean Strategy Group’’, Policy Brief Mediterranean Policy Program, April 2015, The German Marshall Fund of the United StatesClandestino Project, Final Report, November 23, 2009, available at http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_147171_en.pdf

11. Clandestino Project, Final Report, November 23, 2009, available at http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_147171_en.pdf

12. Jean Edmond Randriananteinaina, ‘’Maritime Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships: Exploring the Legal and the Operational Solutions. The case of Madagascar’’, Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea Office for Legal Affairs , the United Nations, New York 2013, available at  http://www.un.org/Depts/los/nippon/unnff_programme_home/fellows_pages/fellows_papers/Randrianantenaina_1213_Madagascar.pdf

13. ‘’West Africa drug trade, new transit hub for cocaine trafficking fuels corruption’’, United Nations, available at http://www.un.org/en/events/tenstories/08/westafrica.shtml

14. ‘’EU Security and Defence Package’’, European Union External Action, December 2016, available at https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/16693/eu-security-and-defence-package_en

15. ‘’EU NATO start new era of cooperation’’ European Union External Action, December 2016, available at https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/16643/EU%20and%20NATO%20start%20new%20era%20of%20cooperation

16. ‘’Operation Sea Guardian’’, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, October 2016, available at http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_136233.htm

17. ‘’EU NAVFOR MED Operation Sophia’’, European Union External Action Service, September 2016, available at https://eeas.europa.eu/csdp-missions-operations/eunavfor-med/12193_en

18. ‘’Shared Awareness and Deconfliction in the Mediterranean’’, available at http://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/csdp/missions-and-operations/eunavfor-med/shade/pdf/2015/terms_of_reference.pdf

19. ‘’EU-NATO Cooperation: Council adopt conclusions to implement Joint Declaration’’, Council of the European Union, December 2016, available at http://dsms.consilium.europa.eu/952/Actions/Newsletter.aspx?messageid=9551&customerid=36699&password=enc_52517859324E68794E576B6E_enc

20. ‘’UN Refugee Agency: 2016 is the deadliest year for refugees crossing to Europe via Central Mediterranean’’, available at https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/un-refugee-agency-2016-deadliest-year-refugees-crossing-europe-central-mediterranean

21. Boutin B., Chanzal G., Dorsey J., Jegerings M., Paulussen C., Pohl J., Reed A., Zavagli S., ‘’The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the European Union: Profiles, Threats & Policies’’, International Centre for Counter -Terrorism- The Hague-Research Paper April 2016

22. Michael Codner ‘’The Security of the Mediterranean Sea’’, LSE Ideas, A Strategy of Southern Europe, Special Report 2013, available at https://sarahwolffeu.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/lse_ideas_report_southerneur_lores.pdf

23. Rajan Menon and S. Enders Wimbush, ‘New players in the Mediterranean’, Mediterranean Paper Series 2010, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, May 2010

24. Edward Delman, ‘’The link between Putin’s military campaigns in Syria and Ukraine,The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/navy-base-syria-crimea-putin/408694/

Featured Image: The boarding team from Spanish EU-Naval Force warship ESPS Rayo board a suspicious skiff. (EUNAVFOR)

The Case for a Constant NATO CSG Presence in the Mediterranean

European Maritime Security Topic Week

By Jason Chuma

The Carrier Strike Group (CSG), with its air wing, surface escorts, and auxiliary support vessels, provides capabilities with great flexibility and presents an overt symbol of modern naval power. From sea control to strike to humanitarian assistance, it can respond anywhere in the 71 percent of the world which is covered by oceans, and with staying power.

The Mediterranean has been one of the most strategically significant bodies of water throughout all of history. The Persians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and all of the European nations that amassed great fortunes using it as a trade route from the Middle Ages through the modern era have understood this. Even in very recent history, states have projected naval power from the Mediterranean into Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

The Persians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and all of the European nations that amassed great fortunes using it as a trade route from the Middle Ages through the modern era have understood this. Even in very recent history, states have projected naval power from the Mediterranean into Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

The Russian Move

Russia has remained well aware of the strategic significance of the Mediterranean through its history. As it has been attempting to do for over 300 years, the modern Russian Federation established a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean. Vladimir Putin’s ally, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has allowed Russia to maintain a navy base in Tartus, which includes replenishment and repair facilities.

This is in some ways a return to Cold War positioning. The Soviet Union was able to project influence in the Mediterranean through ports in Syria, Egypt, and Libya. But following the end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Fleet returned to its home bases within Russia and virtually ceded the Mediterranean as NATO territory for the next 20 years.

Russia’s primary means of projecting naval power into the Mediterranean is the Black Sea Fleet. For this fleet to reach the Mediterranean, it must pass through the strategic straits of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, which are under the control of Turkey, a NATO member.

After the Mediterranean was safely in western hands, NATO was able to withdraw forces from it. With the Black Sea Fleet essentially trapped behind the Turkish Straits, a great NATO naval force was not necessary to counter Russian influence within the Mediterranean. The U.S. Sixth Fleet became a shell of what it once was and the U.S. abandoned the Mediterranean as a strategic naval hub altogether. With the establishment of a permanent naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, Russia has made a strategic move and this warrants a counter-move by NATO.

Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov takes part in operations against insurgents in Syria. (RT via Russian Ministry of Defense)

NATO naval presence within the Mediterranean is made up of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), formerly known as Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (STANAVFORMED). This is an integrated force made up of vessels from allied nations which is available for tasking from Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM). Its tasking mostly consists of exercises, strategic port calls, and occasional disaster response. The size and makeup of SNMG2 varies depending on what is provided by contributing nations, but it is normally comprised of 4-8 destroyers, frigates, corvettes, or even small fast-attack craft, and one support vessel. This force is a far cry from the sea control, power projection, and disaster response capabilities inherently present in a CSG.

The NATO Counter-Move

NATO should maintain a continuous Carrier Strike Group (CSG) presence in the Mediterranean. A CSG patrolling the Mediterranean, especially in the eastern Mediterranean near Tartus, would be an overt display to Russia that NATO has not forgotten about the Mediterranean.

In the October 2015 policy study “Sharpening the Spear” from the Hudson Institute, the authors conclude that for the United States to maintain a naval hub in the Mediterranean, in addition to the current hubs in the
Middle East and Western Pacific, they would need 16 aircraft carriers. That would require six additional carriers to complement the current ten. 
Where could these additional carriers come from? The United States’ allies in Europe with navies that boast aircraft carriers and have similar reservations about Russian proclivities in the region offer a viable and cost-effective option. This is starting to sound like NATO.

For simplicity, we will assume that based on the Hudson Institute policy study referenced above, given that NATO has 16 aircraft carriers between them, a constant CSG presence can be maintained in the Mediterranean while the United States maintains the other two naval hubs.

Assembling a NATO Strike Group

The United States currently has 10 aircraft carriers in service, Italy has two, and France and Spain both have one. That puts the total count for NATO at 14, two short of the required 16. However, the U.S. carrier Ford is scheduled to be commissioned in April 2017 and likely to enter service in 2020, while the UK carrier Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to be commissioned in May 2017 and is likely to also enter service in 2020. So, nominally, in about three years, NATO could have continuous CSG coverage within the Mediterranean.

NATO can coordinate a requirement for certain ships to be in a surge-ready status. Over the next three years, this surging of CSGs could be periodically performed to demonstrate the ability of NATO to surge naval power in a crisis. This would be useful as a stopgap measure while additional aircraft carriers are being built, but this would not constitute a continuous presence. Virtual presence is actual absence.

However, demonstrated surges of naval force can still have influence. Demonstrating the ability to surge a CSG, especially a multinational CSG, can send a powerful message to an adversary. Luckily, surging an aircraft carrier from Toulon, Taranto, or even Portsmouth, UK to the Mediterranean is much more reasonable than surging one from Norfolk, Virginia.

Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender with French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. (Crown Copyright)

The majority of the above discussion has revolved around the aircraft carrier, and though it is a centerpiece, it is not the only component to a CSG. Not only should NATO members coordinate the deployment of their CSGs to provide continuous coverage of the Mediterranean, but should also shoulder the integration of surface combatants into combined NATO CSGs. This can enable even more flexibility and burden sharing.

In 2016, FS Forbin was attached to the USS Harry S. Truman CSG, and then USS Ross was attached to the Charles de Gaulle CSG. Both CSGs were conducting operations into Syria from the eastern Mediterranean. These are perfect examples of burden sharing and are a testament to the present day relevance of the NATO alliance.


NATO is predominately a defensive alliance, but this level of naval cooperation constitutes defense through conventional deterrence by showing that for any move the Russian Federation may make in the Mediterranean, NATO has a counter-move ready.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer. He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_ChumaThe opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: The USS Lincoln and Charles De Gaulle steam alongside one and other in the Arabian Gulf. U.S. Navy Photo. Source. 

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.