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Libyan Coast Guard

Traditionally, the navy's primary mission was to defend the coast and to assist the other services in maintaining internal security and public order. After the previously separate customs and harbor police were joined with the navy in a single command under the Ministry of Defense in 1970, the mission was extended to include responsibilities for curbing smuggling and for enforcing customs laws.

Libya's newly established Coast Guard ordered ten 32-meter PV30-LS patrol boats from the Croatian shipyard Adria-Mar. The first two patrol ships were built at the Lamjan shipyard on the island of Ugljan and delivered to Libya in May 2006 in the presence of Contra-Admiral Hamdija Swheija, who was received by Croatian President Stjepan Mesic. The first two prototypes delivered were very fast, very stable and stealthy with a displacement of around 130-tons. Subsequent vessels were modified after evaluation, and the displacement was reduced to around 116-tons. The second pair were due to be delivered to Libya in late 2007, but were delayed due to "Operation Noble Midas 07". At that time the third pair was fitting out in the Bay of Bakar.

Libya was satisfied with the quality of the PV30-LS patrol ships, which were developed and built according to the modular shipbuilding concept. All parts were constructed in Croatia or procured on the world market. Adria-Mar Shipbuilding delivered the last two of six PV30-LS patrol boats for the Libyan Navy in June 2008. Delivery was completed after successful crew training and trials. The construction of six PV30-LS class patrol boats lasted for three years. Newbuildings No. 305 and 306 named Mersit and Tagreft departed towards their home ports in Libya.

By 2009 Libyan leader Moamer Gadafi seemed to be saving Croatia's shipyards, in a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the Zagreb company Adria Mar and the Croatian shipyards. With the competitive price, Libya decided to continue the order with another 6 patrol ships, which would carry the new model designation OOB31.

By 2015 the coastguard had two ageing 25-meter tug boats and a few small fast boats. The 1,000 men in the Coast Guard were spread over a vast coastline reaching from the oil town of Brega, in the East of the country, to the Tunisian border. The ratio is about one soldier per kilometer. They are badly paid and and not very well organised. A soldier with the coastguard can expect less than 1,000 Libyan dinars at the end of the month. That’s less than €500. Many double up as part-time fishermen to be able to make a decent salary.

Libya appeared caught between two strong desires: to reduce the strain that foreign migrants and refugees cause on its prison and security systems, while at the same time seeking to improve relations with Europe.

Libya lies at the crossroads of the Central Mediterranean route and represents the departure point for 90% of those seeking to travel to Europe. Smugglers and traffickers exploit an unstable political situation and fragmented control over the territory and borders. They contribute to the instability in the country by their actions and human rights violations, thereby increasing the vulnerability of migrants. Progress towards a stable political situation is essential to secure a sustainable future for Libya and stability for the region as a whole.

Launches from Libya of vessels transporting illegal migrants typically increased in spring/summer months to take advantage of improved weather and sea conditions. On 10 May 2008 more than 70 illegal migrants made landfall and requested asylum in Malta during a single 48-hour period. More than half of the 70 individuals claimed to have departed from Libya's coast, prompting Valletta to task its embassy in Tripoli to reiterate requests that the GOL increase patrols in its Search and Rescue area (SAR). Cassar noted that more vessels transporting illegal migrants appear to be calling via satellite telephones to claim distress and request assistance immediately after entering Malta's SAR.

By 2008 Malta focused on enhancing training for Libyan CG officials patrolling Libya's SAR area. Efforts to finalize an agreement to provide such training, as well as a readmission agreement under which migrants found to have entered Malta illegally could be returned to their country of departure (Libya) rather than their countries of origin, had been frozen. A number of European countries had been pursuing similar readmission agreements with the GOL. All encountered significant difficulty in attempting to finalize the agreements. Apart from help in combating illegal migration from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia through Libya to Europe, Europe had little to gain from a closer partnership with Tripoli.

In absence of a more formal agreement, some European countries pursued bilateral cooperation that they privately assessed as being more nimble and effective than broader cooperation under an EU framework agreement might be. Italian diplomats characterized a donation of six vessels to Libya's coast guard and an offer to train Libyan border security officials as Italy's bilateral response to what they view as a lack of meaningful EU engagement on illegal migrant flows through Libya.

Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi publicly disparaged Sarkozy's Union for the Mediterannean proposal. Characterizing the proposed union as "insulting", he claimed it would undermine Arab and African member states' commitments to the Arab League and African Union, and told former British Prime Minister Tony Blair he was concerned that the proposal represented an effort by southern European states to create a North African bulwark against illegal migration from sub-Saharan Africa and to "further legitimize" Israel.

The Libya Professional Exchange took place in Tripoli, Libya (June 8-12, 2008) was a professional exchange in Libya between USCG and Libyan Air Force, Navy and maritime officials regarding SAR and establishment of Libyan Coast Guard. Request came from Libyan government and effort was supported by US Embassy in Libya and DOD's AFRICOM.

In 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provided training on International Seaport Interdiction as well as on Airport Special Teams Operations to its Libyan counterparts. The US Coast Guard (USCG) increased outreach and exchanges concerning maritime issues with the Libyan Coast Guard, including a port visit in Libya by the USCG Cutter Boutwell in June, 2009.

Stemming the flow of migrants to Italy was a key component of the Italian-Libyan "Friendship Treaty" signed in August 2008. Rome donated six patrol boats and took part in a joint program with the Libyan coastguard which patrolled the North African neighbour’s waters to stop migrants in their tracks. Under the 2008 deal four Libyan patrol boats were sent toItaly for maintenance in 2012.

They also agreed that Italy could send back to Libya any migrants it rescued. The Libyan-Italian "friendship treaty" included language calling on Libya to implement earlier agreements to conduct joint patrols and respond to Italian notifications of both imperiled and unidentified migrants within Libyan territorial waters. The number of migrants landings from the central Mediterranean route dropped dramatically, from 67,000 in 2008 to about 20,000 in 2009, and a record 6,000 in 2009.

In 2009 Libya signed two Search and Rescue (SAR) agreements with European neighbors. The Maltese government signed an MOU with Libya on 18 March 2009 outlining each country's SAR responsibilities complained that that the Libyan operations center responsible for managing response to maritime search, rescue, and interdiction would not answer the phone or respond to fax requests - even when the EU provided satellite tracking data. The agreement called for little more than a pledge from Libya "to pick up the phone".

By 2009 the trend for smugglers was toward smaller, faster boats that attempt to slip through EU patrols and land migrants at Lampedusa or Malta. With larger vessels, smugglers hope only to get to EU waters, where they then disable the boat's engine and call in the SOS via satellite phone to the Italian or Maltese authorities - an approach that observers say puts lives at greater risk if conditions turn against a stranded ship.

A U.S. Navy P-3C Maritime Patrol aircraft, a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft and guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52) engaged Libyan Coast Guard vessel Vittoria and two smaller crafts after confirmed reports that Vittoria and accompanying craft were firing indiscriminately at merchant vessels in the port of Misratah, Libya, during the evening March 28, 2011. The P-3C fired at Vittoria with AGM-65F Maverick missiles after multiple explosions were observed in the vicinity of the port rendering the 12-meter patrol vessel ineffective and forcing it to be beached. The P-3C, A-10 and Barry were supporting operations for Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn.

The “Workshop on Implementing Libya’s Priorities for Border Security” held 22-23 April 2013 is part of United Nations efforts to assist Libya in rebuilding and reforming its security sector in line with the priorities identified by the Libyan Government at the International Ministerial Conference in Paris in February 2013. The workshop aimed to outline a plan of action that identifies the immediate priorities in the area of border security and management, clarify the responsibility of each entity in the border security sector and discuss international support to implementing these immediate priorities. Lieutenant-Colonel Atef Salem, representing the Libyan Navy, explained how the lack of clarity in jurisdiction among the various bodies of the State was reflecting negatively on the ground. “Defining jurisdiction is important so no one would get confused,” he said.

At a meeting in Madrid in September 2013, EU member states agreed to join forces with Libya as part of the Seahorse Mediterraneo program to stem illegal immigration into Europe. The project, which in the next three years was to involve the training of Libyan coast and border guards and the establishment of sophisticated satellite-based monitoring and communications, is based on the Seahorse Atlantico programme. There, similar cooperation and systems saw the number of migrants intercepted at sea fall from 31,000 in 2006 to just 332 in the year 2012.

An estimated 300 people were dead or missing after a boat caught fires and capsized near Italian island of Lampedusa October 3, 2013. Survivors of the Lampedusa tragedy said around 500 Eritreans had left from Libya 13 days earlier. The International Organization for Migration reports people paid smugglers between 1,200 and 2,000 euros to be taken from Libya to Italy in rickety fishing boats-a trip that often ends in disaster. Italy reached a deal 08 October 2013 with the Libyan coast guard to enhance sea patrols in the hopes of halting the kinds of desperate migrant crossings that end tragically. The new arrangement involved patrol boats donated by Italy to Libya for sea patrols, as well as enhanced training.

Migrants who survived when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean 13 October 2013 say they were were shot at as they left Libya. At least 33 people died in the incident, a week after more than 350 migrants died in another shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Some said Libyan coast guard fired at the boat, though other accounts suggested that rival trafficking gangs or Libyan militiamen may had been to blame. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called 18 October 2013 on Palestinians fleeing Syria to come to the Gaza instead of risking their lives at sea. The call came after the Libyan coast guard opened fire at a boat carrying 374 Palestinian refugees from Syria.

In 2016, a record high number of refugees and migrants sought to reach the European shores across the Central Mediterranean. Over 181,000 people were detected on the route in 2016, the vast majority of whom reached Italy. 2016 was also a record year for the number of lives lost at sea: over 4,500 people drowned in the attempt to cross. The Central Mediterranean route is now once again the dominant route for migrants and refugees to reach Europe as it used to be before the surge in arrivals through the Eastern Mediterranean in late 2015 and early 2016.

By 2017 the Libyan Coast Guard faced complex training needs, ranging from basic seamanship and an ability to operate safely at sea, to conducting the full range of law enforcement tasks expected of a coastguard, including effective control of Libya's international search and rescue zone. A particular emphasis was being made by the EU to ensure that capacity-building contributes to guaranteeing the respect of migrants’ human rights. Operation Sophia started training the Libyan Coast Guard through three training packages.

This training was complemented by actions carried out by actors in the framework of other EU programs managed by the Commission. These include the Seahorse Mediterranean Network programme, aiming to strengthen Libyan border surveillance and implemented by seven Member States, with the Spanish Guardia Civil in the lead. This should now be stepped up so that complementary action means that the full range of needs identified can be met.

Alongside the capability of the Libyan Coast Guard, there is a broader lack of patrolling assets. Some of these have been repaired outside the country and, their return, accompanied by necessary training of the crew and the establishment of appropriate command and control chain will increase the Libyan Coast Guard capacity for action. Once returned those assets need to be maintained in an effective operational condition.

Building the capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard aims, as a long-term objective, to a situation whereby the Libyan authorities can designate a search and rescue area in full conformity with international obligations. In this perspective, the EU provided financial support to the Italian Coast Guard to assist the Libyan Coast Guard in establishing a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, a prerequisite for efficiently coordinate search and rescue within Libyan search and rescue zone, in line with international legislation.

The February 2017 deal would see the European Union give $215 million to Libya's UN-backed government in Tripoli to improve the security forces and coast guard. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the approach was tried and tested. But rival factions control much of the country – and they are not part of the agreement.

Following up on the Commission's Action Plan to support Italy from 04 July 2017, the EU Trust Fund for Africa adopted on 28 July 2017 a program worth €46 million to reinforce the integrated migration and border management capacities of the Libyan authorities. The program aimed at stepping up activities in support of the Libyan Border- and Coast Guards, to enhance their capacity to effectively manage the country's borders. Support included training, equipment (rubber boats, communication equipment, lifesaving equipment), repair and maintenance of the existing fleet. The activities will strengthen the authorities' capacities in maritime surveillance and rescuing at sea.

Over the summer season, there has been a reduction in the number of crossings of irregular migrants through the Central Mediterranean route. In the months of July and August, 15 373 arrivals were recorded in Italy, compared to 44 846 in the same months in 2016. This reflects a number of elements, including a stronger border control capabilities by the Libyan authorities, a growing activity of the Libyan Coast Guard, the initial implementation of EU-funded actions in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and changes in the approach taken by smugglers.

A number of international human rights organisations have expressed their doubts over the activities of the Libyan coast guard and navy, which are made up of a number of groups that were often, formerly, militia. According to reports, on 27 September 2017 members of the NGOs MISSION LIFELINE and Proactiva Open Arms (based in Germany and Spain respectively) were distributing humanitarian aid to refugees aboard a Dutch-registered vessel in international waters 19 miles off the coast of Libya when they came under attack from the Libyan Coast Guard; coast guard officers fired shots and forcibly boarded the ship without its captain’s consent. The officers attempted to force the crew to turn over the refugees they had rescued, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, as laid down in international law, which bans the repatriation of individuals to countries with a record of serious human rights infringements, such as Libya.

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Page last modified: 18-12-2017 15:23:51 ZULU