Migrant crisis: Authorities nab suspected smugglers in the Mediterranean

European naval units on Saturday apprehended three persons off the coast of Libya suspected of organizing migrant crossings in the Mediterranean Sea.

In an Operation Sophia action which took place in the morning hours of July 9, German tender Werra was assisted by Italian Navy ship Borsini and other mission assets in apprehending the suspicious boat and embarking 146 migrants rescued from a rubber boat.

Besides Werra, the Luxembourg maritime patrol aircraft SW3 Merlin III , two Italian helicopters, a Finnish boarding party and the British survey ship HMS Enterprise took part in the operation under the coordination of operation Sophia Force Commander and his staff on board the mission flagship, the Italian light aircraft carrier Garibaldi.

Earlier in the morning, the Luxembourgish Maritime Patrol Aircraft SW3 Merlin III detected a rubber dinghy with migrants on board that was followed by a suspect skiff and immediately reported the information to the Force headquarters’ staff on board the mission flagship.

Both the suspicious skiff and the rubber dinghy with migrants were headed north. The Commander of the task force on board ITS Garibaldi ordered the German ship Werra to proceed southwards to intercept the suspicious skiff, while the SW3 Merlin III continued to gather all significant video and photographic evidences to be delivered to the Italian authorities.

ITS Garibaldi launched her two helicopters, while the HMS Enterprise was ordered to cut off the way to the Libyan territorial waters.

Werra then launched her two RHIBs with the Finnish boarding party towards the suspect boat sailing in international waters to conduct the boarding operation which resulted in the stop of 3 suspects and the seizing of the boat. In the meantime the Italian ship Borsini, involved in the Italian Operation Mare Sicuro rescued the 146 migrants on board the rubber dinghy and later transferred them on board the Werra.

Later, on Sunday afternoon, FGS Werra reached Catania Harbour disembarking the migrants and delivering the three suspects and the seized boat to the Italian Authority.

EUNAVFOR MED said more than 70 suspected smugglers and traffickers have been prosecuted so far by the Italian authorities and 189 boats have been prevented from being re-used by smugglers following Operation Sophia actions.

Also, more than 19.000 lives were saved at sea during 115 rescue events coordinated by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre while additional 33.324 migrants have been rescued by other actors in the area with the contribution of EUNAVFOR MED assets.