IRINI: 491 Merchant Vessels Investigated off Libyan Coast in July


In July 2023, the EU’s Operation IRINI closely scrutinised 491 merchant vessels through radio communications from a total of 11,059 and undertook 16 ship visits. These were all carried out with the consent of the ship Masters, from a total of 537. Interestingly, no new suspicious flights were monitored from a total of 1,153. However, the operation consistently kept a watch on 25 airports, including landing strips, along with 16 ports which also comprised oil terminals.

IRINI was instituted post the inaugural Berlin Conference. The Council of the European Union took a decisive step on 31 March 2020 by introducing this military operation, placing an emphasis on the adherence to the UN-imposed arms embargo on Libya.

This operation is a cornerstone of Europe’s holistic strategy towards Libya. This strategy encompasses political, military, economic, and humanitarian channels, all aiming to usher stability and security back into the country.

Operation IRINI has a well-defined mission:

Countering Illegal Arms Flow: Its primary objective is to obstruct unlawful arms trafficking, ensuring the enforcement of the arms embargo on Libya as dictated by UN Security Council Resolutions.

2. Monitoring Oil Smuggling: It actively collects data on oil smuggling, especially considering the impact on Libya’s economy and potential funnelling into the arms trade.

3. Disrupting Migrant Smuggling Operations: By leveraging aerial surveillance, it gathers intelligence on illicit migrant smuggling, collaborating with FRONTEX (The European Border and Coast Guard Agency) and associated national entities.

4. Bolstering Libyan Coast Guard Capabilities: An aspect still in the pipeline, it intends to enhance the search and rescue capabilities of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy, through structured training sessions.

Achievements of IRINI:

Since its inception, the operation has embarked on and scrutinised 25 suspicious vessels. In three separate instances, IRINI intercepted cargo that breached the UN arms embargo, rerouting these vessels to EU Member State ports. There was a single instance where a flag state, Türkiye, refused consent to inspect suspect vessels, and this occurred on ten different occasions.

The operation’s comprehensive scrutiny encompasses 11,059 merchant vessels via radio inquiries and 537 ship visits with the ship Master’s nod, termed as ‘friendly approaches’.

Moreover, the operation has looked into:
– 1,153 suspicious flights
– 25 airports and 16 ports
– Additionally, it has furnished 42 in-depth reports to the UN Panel of Expert on Libya, with the majority highlighting potential breaches of the arms embargo and oil smuggling, in both western and eastern regions of Libya.
– Lastly, the embedded Crime Information Cell sanctioned 80 vessel inspection suggestions within EU Member State ports to pertinent law agencies, resulting in 63 actual inspections.

This impressive track record underscores the operation’s efficiency and objectivity in its mission.