EU funding supports acquisition of vessels to rescue migrants at sea

Co-financing from the European Union enabled the Italian Coast Guard to buy and put into service two offshore patrol vessels for rescuing migrants who get into difficulty attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. In line with the European migration agenda, the project helped the authorities to improve migrant rescue measures. This comes against the background of significant increases in migration by sea from north African countries towards the Italian coast in recent years.

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Both vessels purchased under the project have a maximum capacity of around 600 people. Each is equipped with a landing deck, a loading ramp, four speed boats and all other necessary equipment for carrying out search-and-rescue operations at sea.

The boats were used for rescue missions during the EU-funded project period in 2013 and 2014. They enabled Italy to increase the duration of its air and sea search-and-rescue operations by 6000 hours and to rescue an additional 30 000 people.

A perilous route to Europe

Between 2011 and 2016, some 630 000 migrants reached Italy across the central Mediterranean. Some were successfully smuggled across, while others were rescued at sea and taken onshore. More than 13 000 people lost their lives attempting the crossing.

In this context, new maritime surveillance operations were launched in the central Mediterranean in late-2013, such as the Italian government’s Operation Mare Nostrum. This saw resources deployed in the Italian, Maltese and Libyan search-and-rescue zones under the command of the Italian Navy. In November 2014, Operation Mare Nostrum was superseded by Operation Triton, run by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).

With the signing of the EU-Turkey agreement on the return to Turkey of irregular migrants caught crossing from Turkey to Greece and the closure of the Western Balkan route, the central Mediterranean is now the main entry route for migrants arriving in Europe by sea. Thus, there is an even greater need now for humanitarian assistance.

The majority of the migrants attempting to cross the central Mediterranean come from Africa. Smugglers often transport them in inflatable dinghies which have no chance of making it across, leaving the migrants reliant on rescue missions.

A key actor in rescue missions

Along with the Italian Navy and customs police, the Italian Coast Guard remains one of the main actors in rescue efforts in the central Mediterranean. Operation Triton and the EUNAVFOR Med Operation Sophia anti-smuggling mission also play a significant role, as do commercial ships and non-governmental organisations.

A total of around EUR 125 million was spent on the purchase of the two offshore patrol vessels, of which EUR 94 million came from EU funding. The project underlines Europe’s commitment to protecting human rights by upgrading its capacity to provide humanitarian protection for people in desperate situations.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Purchase of maritime assets for rescue operations of migrants at sea” is EUR 125 400 000, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 94 050 000 through the “Italy: Convergence regions ” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.


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