New Op Irini task force commander has big boots to fill

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In his six months at the helm of Operation Irini’s Task Force 464, Hellenic Navy Rear Admiral Konstantinos Bakalakos oversaw over 14 000 maritime actions as well as observing almost 1 400 flights potentially involved in illegal activities.

Bakalakos earlier this month handed command of the European Union (EU) naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea to Italian Rear Admiral Armando Simi.

His semester of command saw the men and women detached to the naval operation tasked with supporting the United Nations (UN) arms embargo on Libya board 603 vessels, conduct physical inspections after boarding 27 vessel and hail 13 844 merchant vessels in the southern Mediterranean. Air traffic totalling 1 388 flights to and from the north African country was observed with a view to illicit activities.

Implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya was not the only task carried out by Bakalakos during his command tenure. As part of a wider European Integrated approach toward the African Country and North Africa Region, Irini tasks included monitoring human trafficking and oil smuggling in international waters off Libya, also seen as threatening stability in the region and security in the Mediterranean. Irini is an EU executive operation (EO) in the framework of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) launched in 2020.

Simi will command the task force from the  Marina Militare (Italian Navy) offshore patrol vessel (OPV) ITS Paolo Thaon di Revel (P430).

Irini, now in its fifth year of operations, is supported by 23 EU member states supplying ships and aircraft. Two naval units, six aircraft and over 600 people are permanently assigned to Irini, with additional maritime and aviation assets deployed by member states on a non-continuous basis as and when needed.

Irini’s single most important seizure was that of 150 vehicles destined for Libya, of which 105 were modified armoured vehicles last year. The vehicles were handed to Ghana last October with EU Vice President Josep Borrell on hand.