EU military operation IRINI sets sail

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On 4 May, the European Union Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI commenced its activities in the Mediterranean Sea with the French naval vessel Jean Bart and a maritime patrol aircraft contributed by Luxembourg.

The military operation was planned in a very short timeframe and launched by the European Union on 31 March 2020 to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya.

It succeeds Operation Sophia as the second EU naval operation in the Mediterranean.

Deploying aerial, naval and satellite assets, EUNAVFOR MED IRINI may inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya bound to or from the country and suspected to be carrying arms or related materiel in volation of the arms embargo.

“At the Berlin Conference, leaders agreed to work together towards a sustainable solution to the crisis in Libya. However, the conflict continues to put the lives of Libyans and the entire region at risk,” The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said.

“The effective enforcement of the UN arms embargo on Libya will help in achieving a sustainable ceasefire and advancing towards a political agreement. Operation Irini is therefore an important contribution towards achieving this goal. It shows EU commitment to peace in Libya, even at times when Member States are battling the coronavirus pandemic.”

“On April 28 the initial Force Generation Conference ended, therefore Operation IRINI was able to start planning operations at sea with its first assets. Other assets offered by Member States will join the Operation in the coming weeks and months” Admiral Fabio Agostini, the Commander of the EU Operation, who operates from the headquarters located in Rome at the Centocelle Joint Operations Centre, noted.

Assets such as the French ship Jean Bart are said to be particularly valuable for the operation as they have the potential to monitor both the sea lines of communication and the air traffic flow. This double effort is essential for the implementation of the operation’s mandate in full compliance with the Berlin conference, ensuring impartiality and conflict sensitivity.

Apart from its main task, the operation also has secondary tasks including monitoring illegal oil trafficking from Libya, contributing to countering human trafficking and smuggling activities and contributing to the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy.

The Force Commander will be assigned to Italy and Greece every six months alternatively. The rotation of the Force Commander will take place together with the rotation of the flagship.

Initially, the operation will have three vessels  — contributed by France, Greece and Italy — and three directly assigned patrol aircrafts  — Germany, Luxembourg and Poland — and the same number of vessels and aircraft in associated support.

It was also planned to have one Maltese boarding team onboard. However, the Maltese government decided to no longer provide boarding team to Operation IRINI, maltatoday reports. The country is allegedly dissatisfied by the response of other EU countries with respect to the migrant crisis it is facing.

Furthermore, the European Satellite Centre (SatCen) will provide satellite imagery support.

Other special assets necessary to carry out the operation’s tasks, such as submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and airborne early warning aircraft, are also expected to support the operation, offered by Member States on an occasional basis.

Particular attention is paid to COVID-19 countermeasures. The Operation Commander has issued guidelines to the participating countries to reduce the risk of contagion in the headquarters and on board ships and aircrafts. The latter have to be declared “COVID-19 free” by the flag state before they can be included in the operation.

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