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Central Mediterranean: the Libyan coast guard provides half of the rescues

(B2) According to the latest data from Operation Sophia, a total of 10.137 people were rescued during 153 rescue operations carried out by different vessels in the central Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, in almost a year (between September 1, 2018 and on August 2, 2019). A figure down drastically compared to 2018. There were 41.961 people recovered during 543 rescue operations, during the same period in 2018, or four times more.

The weight of NGOs in relief has decreased with, in parallel, the rise of the Libyan coast guard (credit: Sea Watch)

If we take a period of six months (December 2018 – May 2019), we observe a figure of 4947 people recovered. A similar drop of 75% compared to the identical period in 2017-2018.

Half of the rescue operations carried out by the Libyan Coast Guard

Rescue operations and interceptions during the past eleven months have been largely carried out by the Libyan Navy and Coast Guard, which have carried out almost half of the rescues: 72 operations (out of 153). The Libyan Coast Guard (LCGPS) has “ enormously increased its rescue capacity according to the European Commission. In 2018 (January to November), the Libyan Coast Guard rescued 14.795 migrants, a figure more than double that of 2017.

The rest of the rescues by Italy, Malta, Tunisia and NGOs

Italian vessels (coastguard, navy and Guardia di Finanza, Carabinieri) ensuring with the Maltese armed forces (respectively 21 and 18 operations) a quarter of the rescues. While the last quarter of rescues is divided between NGO vessels (17 operations), merchant ships (13 operations) and fishing vessels (3 operations), as well as Tunisian forces (9 operations).

The European withdrawal

We can note an almost total absence of European ships in these relief operations. This is not a coincidence, but a deliberate policy. Since June 2017, the Europeans have gradually withdrawn from relief operations, at least on the first line, ensuring only "the second line" as explained by Admiral Credendino, commander of the operation, to EU ambassadors this summer. This so that “ the Libyan coast guard and navy can gradually assume all their powers in the area of ​​responsibility ". Operation Sophia is now focused “ on building Libyan capacities » and the supply of equipment (read on B2 Pro: The smugglers' methods are becoming more refined. The action of the Libyan coast guard is strengthened).

The more limited weight of relief by NGOs

The weight of relief provided by NGOs, despite their extreme media coverage, therefore remains very limited: around 10% of rescue operations but only 5% of people rescued. It is clearly decreasing due to the Italian attitude (shared by Malta and all European countries) to limit their presence on site. 5.200 people were collected in the first six months of 2018 compared to 400 in the first six months of 2019. As for merchant ships, their action has also been largely reduced: a single group of around a hundred people rescued off the coast Libyans in the first six months of 2019, while they had rescued more than 1300 people in the first six months of 2018.


A road twice as deadly as in 2018

During the first half of 2019, 333 deaths on the central route were recorded for 2130 arrivals. That is a mortality rate of one in six, compared to one in 14 people in 2018 (1132 deaths for 15.537 arrivals) and one for 38 in 2017 (2851 deaths for 108.255 arrivals).


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).