Italy moving quickly on plan to deploy ships to Libya

An Italian government plan to deploy vessels in Libyan territorial waters to help fight human trafficking will be presented to parliament early next week, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Thursday.

Italy moving quickly on plan to deploy ships to Libya
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

He said the cabinet was “discussing the details” of a request from Tripoli for help and “will present them on Tuesday”, adding that he was “sure parliament will vote in favour”.

Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has appealed to Italy to send ships into Libyan waters to help combat a phenomenon which has seen thousands of migrants set sail across the Mediterranean to Europe.

The European Union has an anti-trafficking operation dubbed “Sophia” that was launched in 2015, but its vessels have not been permitted to enter Libyan waters, severely complicating their task.

Traffickers have been known to accompany migrant boats some way out to sea, but they stop within Libyan waters.

A flagship Italian command ship, at least five smaller vessels and up to 1,000 soldiers could be dispatched to help support the Libyan coastguard in the battle against smugglers, the Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday.

Italy is also considering using planes, helicopters and drones, it said.

Close to 94,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy so far this year, according to Italy's interior ministry, an increase of more than five percent compared to the same period last year.

More than 2,370 people have died since January attempting the perilous crossing, the UN refugee agency said.