Italian Warship Helped Intercept 80 Migrant Smuggling Boats Near Libya’s Coast

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The Italian small Italian warship Caprera has helped intercept more than 80 migrant smuggling boats off the coast of Libya and stopped more than 7,000 people from reaching Europe, the New York Times reported.

Italy’s then interior minister, Matteo Salvini praised the Caprera for this work and lauded the ship for defending Italian security.

There was just one problem: The Caprera was itself smuggling contraband to Europe.

During an inspection of the ship on the day it returned home, Italy’s financial police found about 700,000 contraband cigarettes and several boxes of Cialis, a medication for erectile dysfunction. All the contraband was bought when the Caprera was moored in Tripoli from March to July 2018 as part of an anti-people-smuggling mission by the Italian navy.

“I felt like Dante descending into the inferno,” said Lt. Col. Gabriele Gargano, the police officer who led the raid and a subsequent investigation. “I’ve seen many smuggling busts — but 70 sacks of cigarettes on a military vessel? I never saw that in my whole life.”

A trial is now underway in Brindisi, in which five sailors are accused of involvement in the smuggling operation. But the investigation has expanded beyond just the Caprera.

A United Nations panel determined in 2019 that the Italian naval mission violated a UN arms embargo by providing repairs to one Libyan warship. The documents reveal that the Caprera may have violated the embargo on at least three more occasions.

Italy promised logistical and financial support — funded in part by the European Union — to rebuild the Libyan Coast Guard. Under the agreement, Italy donated several old Coast Guard vessels to Libya. It also deployed its own naval vessels on rotation in Tripoli to coordinate their anti-migration activities.