News BlogBorders Immigration AsylumMediterranean sea

A mother ship of smugglers caught in the act off Lampedusa (V3)

(B2) This is a rather rare image that the European authorities have just released. It attests that the arrival of migrants or refugees on European coasts is the work of well-organized gangs.

The mothership system

In addition to the departure of inflatable boats (often poor quality) from Libyan beaches, some traffickers use more refined techniques: a mother boat tows one or more ships or canoes on the high seas before cutting the cord at a reasonable distance from the coast. (Italian or Maltese), letting their 'clients' sail towards their final destination. This journey is more expensive and safer for migrants. For traffickers, it is more lucrative. And it’s difficult to catch them in the act… except by air.

The unstoppable airway detection mode

Experts from the European Border Guard Corps (Frontex) had a keen eye when they detected a fishing boat towing a small, empty, rigid-hull raft. Strange in the open sea. They decided to track him, for several hours, using a plane and a drone. A few moments later, bingo! The proof of activity becomes irrefutable. The video below (shot from the air) shows this:

In the images, we see people coming out of the boat one by one, some with life jackets, and getting on, or rather piling up, on the raft. When the tank is full (81 in total), the mother ship goes back to full power to get as far away as possible from the raft which will then have to reach, alone, the Italian coasts of Lampedusa.

The alert is given to Rome and Malta, as well as to the HQ of Operation Sophia (EUNAVFOR Med). There Finance Guard and Guardia di costiera (the Italian Coast Guard) are mobilized in search of the two ships. The mother ship is finally intercepted in international waters. The alleged smugglers — six Egyptians and a Tunisian — were arrested and disembarked in Licata (Sicily), escorted by the Italian financial police, this morning (June 22) at dawn. The mother ship is seized. As for the boat full of migrants, it was intercepted in Italian waters. On board are Bengalis, Libyans and Moroccans according to the Frontex agency.

Comments : this use of motherships in the Mediterranean is not new. Already at the end of 2013, the Italian forces had, with supporting evidence, demonstrated this technique in front of the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs, in order to raise their awareness of the problem (read: The Somali technique: the evidence). Often works of Egyptian or Tunisian networks, sometimes linked with Italian mafia networks.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Updated: with a contextual comment (22.6), the origin of migrants (24.6)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

2 thoughts on “A mother ship of smugglers caught in the act off Lampedusa (V3)"

Comments closed.