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Tunisia - Navy

The Tunisian Navy is a coastal defence force without the submarine or major combatant capabilities deployed by its neighbours, and which has not had its ability tested in combat. Its main mission is to contribute to the defence of Tunisian territorial integrity and to protect the country's national interests in its maritime approaches. The Tunisian Navy specialises in patrolling the 1,148 km of coastline against smuggling and people trafficking, tasks it performs in collaboration with the coast guard element of the National Guard.

The mission of the Navy is primarily to stop fishermen from other Mediterranean countries from poaching in Tunisian territorial waters. In the absence of recent operational experience against other forces it is not possible to offer an evidential analysis of how the Tunisian Navy operates against conventional or asymmetrical forces in different environments. This is almost certainly a function of the strengths and weaknesses of their neighbors, Algeria and Libya, neither of whom are maritime powers.

In the mid-1980s the navy had undergone a far more modest modernization than the other services, and much of its inventory was approaching obsolescence. The navy had a relatively limited mission concentrating on coastal protection, enforcement of customs regulations, rescue operations within territorial waters, and protection of the country's maritime boundaries. The 4800-man Tunisian Navy is based at Bizerte. In 1985 it had a manned strength of 2,600 including 500 conscripts.

Established in 1959, the navy initially received French assistance, including advisory personnel and several small patrol vessels. In the mid-1980s the force included the frigate President Bourguiba (a World War II vintage destroyer escort transferred from the United States), two United States-built coastal minesweepers, and a variety of fast-attack and patrol craft. In October 1973 DE-326 Thomas J. Gary was decommissioned in ceremonies at the Quai d'Honneur, Bizerte; and moments later, the ship was commissioned by the Tunisian Navy as the President Bourgiba. Her name was struck from the US Navy list that same day. She suffered a major fire on April 16, 1992 and is no longer operational. The most important additions to the fleet in the 1980s were three Combattante III fast attack craft armed with Exocet surface-to-surface missiles. Apart from these vessels, however, most of the fleet's units were old and capable of little more than coastal patrol duties.

During the 1960s and 1970s the navy was primarily involved in combating the smuggling of contraband, the illegal entry of undesirable aliens, and unauthorized emigration as well as other security activities affecting the coastal areas. In these matters the overall effort was shared with agencies of the Ministry of Interior, especially the customs agents and immigration personnel of the Sarete Nationale.

Throughout the 1970s the navy also responded to government concerns over unauthorized use of Tunisian fishing waters through aggressive actions against encroaching foreign fishing fleets. In what many observers described as the "sardine war," armed patrol boats repeatedly engaged Italian vessels from Sicily, firing on them and forcing them into Tunisian ports for the imposition of heavy fines. During this period a longstanding dispute over the maritime border with Libya also resulted in shows of force by Tunisian naval vessels. Although the issue was later referred to international arbitration, its reemergence as a point of conflict could put the navy in the center of a future Tunisian-Libyan clash.

In the 1990's, human trafficking from Tunisia into Italy and Spain was a particular problem in the region. This trade in economic migrants continues and is now addressed through the 5+5 dialogue between the countries of the Maghreb and the Southern European axis. Through this framework, the Tunisian Navy is jointly involved in co-operation programmes with the navies of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Algeria. It also has standing co-operation programmes with the United States Navy and the German Navy, the latter of which is based upon exchange visits, port calls, training and bilateral exercises.

The Tunisian Navy rescued 356 migrants on 10 June 2015 off the country's southeastern coast near Ben Guerdane, the Red Crescent said. The group of migrants, mainly Africans, including 38 women and seven children, had been trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, AFP quoted Red Crescent official Ammar Lamloum as saying. Sub-Saharan Africans, Syrians, Moroccans and Egyptians in the group had left Libya aboard the makeshift vessel, but it floundered off the Tunisian coast. Tunisian ships rescued more than 450 migrants in April and May 2015.



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