EU Med naval force notches up 9 000 ship checks

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Operation Irini, the European Union (EU) naval force in the Mediterranean Sea established to maintain a United Nations (UN) arms embargo on Libya, has in its three year existence to date done checks and queries on almost 9 000 merchant vessels, a change of command parade heard.

In the same period 25 suspects vessels were searched at sea and three had their cargoes seized for arms embargo violations. Additionally, naval and aerial platforms serving with the EU mandated tasking seized 150 armoured vehicles seemingly destined for the troubled north African country.

Hundreds of women and men from 23 European nations have contributed daily with “their tireless commitment to the European Common Security and Defence Policy for a lasting peace in Libya,” according to an Operation Irini statement.

It continues: “The operation is the only actor committed to enforce UN resolutions on the arms embargo on Libya integrating international efforts to stabilise the North African country”.

The EU Council extended the Irini mandate of by two years, “an important confirmation taking into account the remarkable results achieved so far by the EU military operation”.

At the weekend Italian rear admiral Valentino Rinaldi took over tactical command of the European naval force operating in the central Mediterranean, from Greek Rear Admiral Stylianos Dimopoulos.

Operation Irini commander Rear Admiral Stefano Turchetto told the parade to “be proud of the excellent work done”. He thanked all involved for being “fearless and embodying the greatest European ideals and values, with great personal sacrifice for the common good”.

Irini prevented military equipment being transferred to Libya. A notable interception came in October last year when at least 28 BATT UMG vehicles manufactured by the UAE’s The Armoured Group were intercepted en route to Libya aboard merchant vessel Meerdijk in violation of the UN arms embargo.

In July last year, Italian Navy frigate ITS Grecale inspected the cargo vessel MV Victory Roro (previously MV Luccello) after she was located by a French maritime patrol aircraft. This brought to light “dozens of vehicles designed or modified for military use and assessed to be in violation of the UN arms embargo on Libya”. Operation Irini seized the vehicles violating the arms embargo and diverted the ship to a European port for further proceedings.

Victory Roro, flying the Equatorial Guinea flag and under her previous name, was identified by a UN panel of experts on Libya as delivering military vehicles to the north African country last March.

In addition to maritime taskings, ships and crew detached to Irini regularly monitor transport activities at 16 Libyan ports and oil facilities as well as 25 airports and landing strips. Irini command sent 35 reports to the UN panel of experts set up to oversee violations or possible violations of the arms embargo against the North African country.

The operation is supported by 23 European countries providing ships, aircraft and personnel.