Italy’s parliament has approved the donation of 12 patrol vessels to Libya to enhance its Coast Guard in dealing with the migrant crisis.
The donation includes ten refurbished ex-Italian Coast Guard (Guardia Costiera) 500-class patrol boats and two Corrubia-class patrol boats decommissioned from the Italian Customs Police (Guardia di Finanza) fleet. The vessels will be operated by the Libyan Coast Guard and the Ministry of Interior.
Approval was given on 6 August by the lower house of parliament, with 382 lawmakers voting for and 11 against the move.
The boats will help Libya stem the flow of illegal immigrants to Europe. The donation will also enable Libyan forces to secure their own coastline without the help of EU naval forces.
The Italian government will also take responsibility for the maintenance of the 12 boats until the end of the year and offer training to the Libyan coastguard and naval authorities, IANS/AKI reported. Another 17 boats will follow.
Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli said the aid package is worth 2.5 million euros and includes the 12 boats and funds for the training of Libyan sailors.
Italy already operates the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Run jointly with Libyan forces, the centre is used to coordinate the identification, location and interception of human smuggling boats. It also provides basic maintenance services for patrol boats in addition to supporting search and rescue operations at sea.
The Libyan Coast Guard service earlier said it cannot stop the flow of illegal immigrants through the Mediterranean to Europe because it has only three operational patrol boats, which are often forced to stay at port due to lack of fuel.
More than 640,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since 2014. Although the numbers have fallen dramatically in the past year, Italy’s interior minister and leader of the far-right League party Matteo Salvini has pushed migration to the top of the political agenda, helping propel his party into government. This year the Libyan Coast Guard has returned nearly 13 000 migrants at sea to Libya, according to the International Organisation for Migration.