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Navies take on 2,000 migrants

June 6, 2015

EU vessels have pulled upward of 2,000 migrants from boats in the Mediterranean. As in past missions, Germany's military is among those responding to the migrant boats' distress call.

German military boat (Photo: Bundeswerhr/PAO Mittelmeer/dpa)
Image: Bundeswerhr/PAO Mittelmeer/dpa

Units plucked 2,000 migrants from Mediterranean waters in 15 operations off Libya's coast on Saturday. German, Italian, Irish and Maltese vessels responded to the calls.

"We have several assets at work," a spokesman for Italy's coast guard said on Saturday.

As two British helicopters patrolled the Mediterranean Sea from above on Saturday, the Italian navy ship Driade rescued 560 migrants in an hourslong operation after a smuggler's boat ran into problems, the navy reported.

Elsewhere, an Irish naval vessel, LE Eithne, took 310 people, including 39 children, onto a barge about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the Libyan coast, the Defense Forces announced. The LE Eithne had taken on 113 persons Friday, as well.

Pressure has increased on EU nations to address the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, the images of which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called "incompatible with the values of the European Union." However, various NGOs and UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have criticized what many see as a military solution to a humanitarian issue.

One solution under consideration by EU officials would distribute migrants among member nations. Countries such as France have taken issue with that concept, however.

Ongoing mission

Italy has pressed its EU partners to do more to help the country rescue and shelter migrants, who have fled poverty, persecution and conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Last year, Italy brought 170,000 migrants to ports.

So far this year, about 46,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, up 12 percent from last year, with many taken on by vessels from Ireland, Malta, Britain and elsewhere. A total of 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea in 2014.

Italy's coast guard frequently dispatches nearby cargo ships. Humanitarian organizations also help with rescues at sea, which often occur when smugglers set a dozen or more boats a sail when the Mediterranean grows calm in summer.

Earlier Saturday, police in Sicily detained a suspected migrant smuggler who they said had tried a new tactic of putting only a few passengers aboard a small boat in a bid to land undetected on Italian shores. Ragusa police detained the man for reportedly smuggling 12 of his fellow Tunisians aboard a wooden boat.

The migrants told authorities that the man had promised to sail them to an isolated beach near Trapani, western Sicily, at night so they could slip away undetected, but police say the suspect bungled the route and Italy's navy spotted the boat.

Separately, Italian police detained a Gambian skipper suspected of smuggling 116 African migrants. People smugglers make an average of 80,000 euros ($89,000) from each boatload, according to an ongoing investigation by an Italian court.

mkg/sgb (Reuters, dpa, AP)