ROME, Nov 2, (Pakistan Point News - APP - 02nd Nov, 2016 ) - An EU mission to train the Libyan coast guard hopes to diffuse tensions between the crisis-hit country and migrant rescue boats off its shores, and stop attacks by rogue vessels, its chief said Wednesday. Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino, who heads up Operation Sophia, admitted NGOs working to save migrants off Libya had been shot at by the coast guard in the past, but said the training programme, which began last week, was the solution.
"In some occasions the coast guard has reacted too violently (to NGO boats entering Libyan territorial waters) because it did not have the training," he told journalists in Rome. "That's what the training is for". The mission, which aims to train 500 Libyans in total, also hopes to stop tragedies such as the one last month in which men on what appeared to be a Libyan coast guard speedboat attacked migrants on a dinghy, leaving 25 people feared drowned.
"In some cases we cannot be sure that it's the coast guard... it's the traffickers who are masquerading," Credendino said. "Everyone wears camouflage (uniforms). We've seen Zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats exactly like the ones used by the coast guard) sailing under a Libyan flag. It doesn't mean it's the coast guard," he said. "In any case, the idea of training the Libyan coast guard is to make sure they act in accordance with international law," he added.
By providing training and equipment -- Italy is supplying 10 coast guard boats -- it will then be up to the Libyans to deal with the security issues off its coastline, including the smuggling of migrants, weapons, drugs and oil, he said. With October marking a record monthly high in the number of migrants arriving in Italy in recent years -- some 27,000 people -- the pressure is on to train the coast guard quickly in order to curb the growing influx from North Africa.