EU boosts sea surveillance and migrants

Europe must step up joint surveillance efforts at sea to combat drug trafficking and people smuggling, European maritime commissioner Joe Borg said as he announced two pilot projects.
“We need a much more structured approach to international crime,” he told reporters yesterday. “This is not a European coastguard, but it’s a step towards the same challenges.”
Starting next year with a pilot project in the Mediterranean and its Atlantic approaches, European member states, fishermen and seafarers will be encouraged to share surveillance data using an existing EU messaging system called SafeSeaNet.
Sharing information on illegal immigration would cut costs and help fill gaps in the picture, which has been fragmented by the lack of coordination between EU countries.
“If you take the number of member states and multiply it by the number of agencies dealing with immigration, the number is mind-boggling,” said Borg.
Illegal immigration tops the agenda in Europe’s frontline countries such as Italy where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has started a crackdown.
Some 36 900 illegal immigrants arrived in Italy by boat last year in search of a better life, the interior ministry says.
Immigration has also prompted a row between Italy and the European Union’s executive, which sought an investigation into how 73 migrants died of thirst and hunger during a journey in a small boat from Libya to Italy.
In the North Sea region, where surveillance data is already commonly shared, a second pilot project will try to promote sharing of surveillance ships and satellites.
Classified information would be traded directly between national defence agencies, but non-classified information would be managed using SafeSeaNet, a messaging system set up in the wake of the Erika oil tanker disaster in France in 1999.
Piracy in regions such as Somalia could also be curbed by European vessels using the system to share knowledge, said Borg.
“We have concerns because of possible attacks on EU fishing vessels,” he said.
Somali pirates are currently holding the Spanish fishing boat Alakrana and demanding the release of two Somali pirates captured by the Spanish navy this month.