Operation Irini ships are to be deployed off the eastern coast of Libya, where most weapons from Turkey arrive. File photo from 2 May, 2017 | Photo: picture-alliance/German Ministry of Defense
Operation Irini ships are to be deployed off the eastern coast of Libya, where most weapons from Turkey arrive. File photo from 2 May, 2017 | Photo: picture-alliance/German Ministry of Defense

The German frigate "Hamburg" set sail from Wilhelmshaven in the north of Germany on August 4. It is expected to reach its Mediterranean patrol zone off the Libyan coast by mid-August. The boat will be part of the EU operation Irini, designed to help enforce a UN weapons embargo on Libya in the hope of stabilizing the country.

The ship, staffed with about 250 German military personnel, will patrol the coastal waters off Libya to help enforce the UN weapons embargo for the next five months. The crew are not expected back in Wilhelmshaven until December 20. 

Operation Irini began at the beginning of May and is an attempt by the EU to reduce the amount of weapon smuggling to Libya which is fueling the conflict in the country.

Germany has been part of the EU operation since it began in May this year and has already supplied a surveillance plane which has flown about 20 missions so far. The mission's first mandate is expected to continue until April 2021.

Although the ships and planes taking part in Operation Irini are designed to patrol the Libyan coast and surrounding Mediterranean to stop weapon smuggling, they have also been instrumental in spotting and sometimes transporting migrants rescued at sea.

Sea rescue

A spokesperson of the German defense ministry said on Monday that "when people find themselves in difficulty at sea, it is beholden upon everyone to offer help." According to the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP), the defense ministry said that any migrants rescued at sea by the mission would be taken to Greece where they would then be shared out across several EU countries.

Operation Irini replaced the former EU mission Sophia which was more aimed at curbing human trafficking as well as preventing weapons smuggling to Libya and monitoring illicit exports of Libyan oil. Operation Sophia also sought to train Libyan coast guards to prevent smugglers putting boats full of migrants at sea.

Reviewed every four months

Irini also aims to try and curb human trafficking. However, some EU states have worried that the presence of EU military patrol vessels in the waters off Libya could conversely act as a "pull factor" for migrants who might feel that there is a greater chance of being rescued at sea. 

For this reason, according to an article by the Centre for European Reform, "EU leaders agreed that they would review the operation every four months to make sure it was not having this effect."

If after a review a member states judges the mission not to be working, it can place a veto over its work and withdraw support. Malta used that veto in early May if the issue of disembarkation of migrants on its shores was not urgently addressed by the EU.

In May, the EU Observer online portal published an analysis of the Irini operation by Tobias Pietz from the Berlin-based Center for International Peace Operations. Pietz pointed out that opposition to Irini being used to rescue migrants in distress at sea was such that if it began to do that, it could, under its mandate, be terminated by any member state for a period of eight days.

 

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