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Operation Irini soon to be operational (v4)

(B2) Operation Irini will finally be able to start its activities. She is responsible for monitoring the arms embargo off the coast of Libya and takes over from Operation Sophia

A Luxembourg maritime patrol aircraft (credit: EUNAVFOR Med Sophia / B2 archives)

The last force generation conference of the new EU operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med Irini), which was held yesterday (28 April), was more successful than the first (1). “ Despite the current difficult context”, the " large majority of Member States were able to commit to providing personal and material resources said EEAS spokesman Peter Stano on Wednesday (April 29).

The initial operational capability

Three ships and four planes to start

According to our information, drawn from a good source, three countries — Italy, Greece and France (with a frigate) — should provide the first ships to EUNAVFOR Med. While Poland, Luxembourg, Germany and France will provide air assets. This is for the initial phase which has not yet concretely started. This could be the case in the coming days: next week perhaps, or at least in the first fortnight of May.

A contribution to the general staff

Several other countries have confirmed to B2 their participation, but only with personnel deployed to the operation headquarters located in Rome (or in the area): Austria, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Sweden, etc.

First flights

The first flights over the area of ​​operation took place in the last days of April, with a Luxembourg Merlin, as an official from the Grand Duchy confirmed to us. Luxembourg has, in fact, signed a contract with the local company Wings & Men SA (2), as it had done in the past with the EUNAVFOR Med operation (Sophia), which has aircraft of this type based at Sigonella (3).

Full operational capacity not before summer

Other means should come to support, or relay the first, later. Germany thus finally promised not only a P3 Orion plane and its crew, for the initial phase, but also a ship which will only arrive from August. Slovenia could also contribute with its patrol boat Triglav 11, as an official in Ljubljana confirmed to us. This will make it possible to declare full operational capacity for the operation.

A discussion of leadership

A Franco-Italian command for the operation

If the operation commander is known (for several weeks already for B2 readers read: Booklet 07.02.2020), in the person of Italian Rear Admiral Fabio Agostini, and that the position of number 2 of the operation remains assigned (as to Sophia) to a Frenchman, Rear Admiral Jean-Michel Martinet, it still remains to be determined who will have command of the force at sea.

A ship and a Greek commander for the force?

Athens, which notably offered its ports for the disembarkation of possible people (migrants, refugees) collected at sea, claims a notable share in the command. A point that still sticks and has already sparked several discussions since mid-February (read: A change of command for EUNAVFOR Med (formerly Sophia) cannot be ruled out). This could, in fact, pose some problems in the event of control of Turkish ships transporting weapons to the government in Tripoli. So everything is not completely settled yet.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Lire: EUNAVFOR Med Irini operation without ships, for now. Force generation continues
  2. The Luxembourg government contractor changed in mid-February (previously CAE Aviation).
  3. The site itamilradar had spotted on Sunday (26 April) a Fairchild Merlin IVC type aircraft (registered N919CK) scouting off the coast of Libya. He had come in particular to observe a Turkish container, the Parpali (IMO 9134701), reported Monday (April 27) a journalist from Radio Radicale.

Read our file No. 81. The arms embargo control operation off Libya EUNAVFOR Med IRINI

Updated on 30.4 with additions on the countries participating in the staff, details on the Luxembourg aircraft, the command and the ships engaged.

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).