Libya coastguard enthusiastic, but ill-equipped, for daunting mission

Tue Dec 17, 2013 7:58am EST
 
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By Ulf Laessing

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - When Libyan coastguard officer Ashraf El-Badri needs to dispatch a boat to stop illegal migrants heading for Europe, his options are limited - ask the oil ministry for a tug, use an ageing fishing boat or board an inflatable.

European governments are counting on officials like Badri to stop an influx of hopeful migrants from setting off from Libya's shores to reach Italy and Malta.

But more than two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the country's coastguard is just not up to the task.

The force does not have radar or a single helicopter, or even adequate gear for the officers who go out to sea in small inflatables - the kind of boat sometimes used for fun rafting trips in other parts of the world.

"Smugglers have guns, equipment and they often open fire," said Badri, who heads the coastguard in the capital Tripoli.

"We just lack any equipment. We don't even have bulletproof vests or night goggles, which are not available in the local market."

Navy ships from the Gaddafi era rust away at a quay next to his office at the central Tripoli naval base. Some were damaged by NATO bombs when the alliance was helping the rebels fight Gaddafi and others have fallen into disuse through neglect.

The coastguard says it stopped 2,200 migrants on the sea in September and October alone. But officers admit they are unable to control Libya's 2,000-km long shore.   Continued...

 
Members of Libya's coastguard undergo a rescue exercise during training provided by the European Union, in Tripoli November 13, 2013 in this picture provided by the European Union Press Office. REUTERS/European Union Press Office/Handout via Reuters