DW is on board a German navy ship taking part in Operation Sophia, aimed at stopping illegal migration across the Mediterranean. In an exclusive interview, the mission's force commander shares his views.
DW: How successful has the mission been so far?
Rear Admiral Andrea Gueglio: I think we have accomplished a lot so far. We have been able to deploy a very impressive force in a short time. We have been able to accomplish the targets of the first phase of the mission in a very short period of time. Now we are fighting more directly against human traffickers in international waters.
The mission has contributed a lot to saving lives at sea, but only a small number of suspected traffickers have been arrested. Why?
You can read numbers from different perspectives. We have been very effective in creating a very clear deterrence against traffickers. Their presence in international waters has been completely stopped. They are now able to operate from the shore itself and from inside territorial waters. That is why it is very important for us to be authorized in the future to shift into phase two and then phase three.
So you would welcome a move where the force would be allowed to enter Libya's territorial waters?
The overall design of the operation sees us being authorized to operate inside territorial waters in the future and that would be crucial for us, because we would then be able to control the movement of the smugglers and prevent them from being active at sea. The third phase will see us being able to fight them directly ashore.
Is it possible to stop human trafficking without any effective government control on land?
Human trafficking is part of a big problem that Europe decided to face in a so-called "comprehensive way." We are the military answer and we are one of the 10 pillars that have been designed in Brussels to tackle this big problem. Of course, the need to go ashore is very strong, because that is the only way to prevent them from organizing departures (of boats).
On the other side, it is very important to have a credible Libyan counterpart. Whenever we are able to talk to them, to support them through training for example, that would be the critical shift in the strategic big picture that will see the traffickers to be tackled in a very effective way.
European leaders have agreed on a plan for Libya to receive assistance to set up a functioning coast guard. Would that help?
Yes. The role of the united Libyan government will be really crucial to see a change in the pace in our ability to fight against the smugglers. That is why we are watching and we are looking at what is going on in Tripolis with huge interest.
There are voices who say that the mission is actually making life easier for the traffickers, because they know they can send people out to sea and they can assume that they will be rescued, presumably even by one of the European navy ships. What's your position on that?
The problem we are facing now has its roots in the past. Because of the law at sea, the traffickers would be in a position to send boats out to sea, even without our presence, and hope for the intervention of a merchant vessel. But if this would be the case, rescue operations would be more difficult and the total cost of lives would be much higher.
Italian Rear Admiral Andrea Gueglio is the force commander of the European naval mission "Sophia."
Interview: Daniel Pelz