Formed just ahead of the coronavirus pandemic making itself felt across the world, the EU naval operation in the Mediterranean to enforce a UN arms embargo on strife-torn Libya had “intense, demanding and challenging activities” in its first 10 months.
With the codename EU NavFor Med Irini found itself not only facing those wanting to break the arms embargo but also the new rules of operating a naval mission in a pandemic.
Formed last February, Op Irini started its tasking early in May with a year-end statement saying it “immediately contributed to enhancing the security situation in a complex theatre like the Mediterranean”.
“The sense of responsibility, tenacity and constant commitment of the women and men of Operation Irini to the objectives and the mission allowed us to succeed in making the Central Mediterranean a more controlled, known and safer arena,” the statement says adding, “plenty of unresolved crises and challenges are still out there and 2020 achievements will be our guideline to address them in a professional, impartial and balanced way in the forthcoming year”.
Since 4 May when operations at sea started Irini assets patrolled the central Mediterranean investigating 1 560 merchant vessels (hailings), conducted 62 friendly approaches (consensual visits on board of merchant vessels), six inspections (boardings) of merchant vessels to verify their cargo and one diversion of a merchant vessel for infringing the arms embargo. The Operation also monitored activities in 16 Libyan ports and oil facilities.
As far as air route monitoring is concerned Irini checked 25 airports and landing strips as well as 155 flights possibly carrying military related cargos to and from Libya.
“All activities were carried out with full respect of the impartiality principal towards the belligerent parties in Libya, which Operation Irini always strictly complies. This is evidenced by 17 special reports the Operation issued to the UN Panel of Experts on Libya regarding violations or possible violations of UN Security Council resolutions on the arms embargo and prevention of oil smuggling. These results were possible thanks to the European Union Satellite Centre which provided 436 sets of satellite images at Irini’ requests.”
Irini’s current asset list is two ships – Italian patrol vessel Cigala Fulgosi and the Greek frigate Adrias along with an Italian predator drone and three aircraft – SSW3 Merlin from Luxembourg, German PC-3 Orion and a Polish 28B1R Antonov Bryza. French and Greek aircraft are assigned in direct support for a number of sorties per month.