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Libya receives refurbished patrol boats from Italy

Four Libyan fast patrol boats.The Libyan Coast Guard has taken delivery of four refurbished patrol boats from Italy to beef up its efforts to stop people smuggling, with another six boats due in the coming weeks.

The four boats were handed over by Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti at Tripoli naval base on 15 May. They are Bigliani class fast patrol boats produced by Intermarine.

Another six repaired patrol boats will be delivered "in the coming weeks", Minniti said.

A Libyan naval officer told Agence France Presse the vessels had been due for delivery in 2014, but this date was pushed back because of violence and instability in the North African country.

In 2009 Italy donated six Bigliani class patrol boats to Libya to monitor its 1 770 km Mediterranean coastline. Two subsequently broke down and became unserviceable and four were sent back to Italy for maintenance in 2012 and were not returned as Italy did not recognise the Tripoli government.

The first two boats were apparently delivered last month and joined by another two for Monday’s ceremony.

"These are capable officials and sailors who from this point on can contribute to a double operation: the first is the control of Libyan waters, which is highly important for the stability of this country," Minniti said as he presented the UN-backed government in Tripoli with the vessels.

"The second is to contribute with other European countries and Italy to the security of the central Mediterranean, with a capacity to intervene against human traffickers and with preventative action against terrorism."

There are several different versions of the Bigliani class (as it is known by the Italian Custom Service), which vary from 28 to 36 metres in length. The MV85 model is a family of 28 metre fast patrol boats designed for speeds of between 40 and 45 knots while the MV115 family is 36 metres in length and has a speed of more than 35 knots.

It appears the Libyan vessels are MV85 models, powered by two MTU diesel engines. They are normally fitted with a 30 mm or 12.7 mm gun but the gun turrets on the Libyan boats appear to have been removed. Each vessel is fitted with a small boat at the back.

Italy and the European Union promised in February to spend millions of euros to help the Tripoli government upgrade its coast guard fleet, and some 90 crew have been trained by the EU, Reuters reports.

But Libyan officials say they need far more equipment than the vessels being delivered by Italy, none of which is new. Smugglers in Libya have packed hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to reach Europe onto unsafe boats over the past four years, and thousands have died trying to make the crossing.

And humanitarian groups say that at sea, Libyan coast guards have put the rescue crews and migrants at risk in several incidents. The groups are concerned not only for their own safety but for that of migrants trapped in Libya.

Private aid vessels normally cruise in international waters about 20 miles off the coast of a country where militias and smuggling networks wield more power than the authorities.

Rescued migrants are brought to Italy because Libya is not considered a safe harbor. But increased capacity by the Libyan coast guard means more refugees and migrants will be returned to the lawless state.