Irish Sunday News by the Numbers
Cherishing the Spirit of Collaboration

Following the smugglers' money trail into territorial waters

IN THE 80S, I knew friends who flew into Libyan waters fast enough to create rooster tails of spray as they locked onto targets a few miles inland. Today, I'm walking the streets of Cork next to Irish sailors who may be plying those waters in search of smugglers carrying migrants.

Migrant Boat

Ireland's national broadcaster is carrying stories about an initiative in the European Union that will expand the naval mission to permit the Irish Navy interception rights. The plan, outlined by the Wall Street Journal, involves stopping smuggler ships carrying migrants from Libya to Europe.

"At a meeting of European affairs ministers this coming Monday in Luxembourg, the bloc will say the conditions now are in place for the EU operation to be expanded to a new, more operational phase," says Julian Barnes in the WSJ.

"Monday’s meeting will be followed by a conference on Wednesday when EU members will be asked to pledge additional military forces for the mission, which is expected to begin at the end of the month, if adequate forces have been offered up by the member states.

"Currently, the European Union’s naval operation allows only for boarding ships carrying migrants that give permission to board. Under the new phase, specialized military teams would board ships piloted by smugglers in international waters, seize the vessels and arrest the smugglers."

It will be interesting to see if European officials will push forward with incursions through Libyan waters without getting UN Security Council approval. According to the rules of international passage that I learned as an air transport pilot, if you undertake to "rescue" a vessel's occupants or if you purport to be a safety inspection, you should be able to exert influence and board vessels that could easily capsize in high waves of the Mediterranean. Once aboard, you can detain the captain of the unsafe vessel and bring that person to justice for bringing undue risk to cargo and passengers. This kind of active step could capsize the business model of smugglers.

Julian E. Barnes -- EU Moves to Beefing Up Mediterranean Mission" in the Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2015.

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