EU: Joint patrols mounted in Med by Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and UK



On 28 January 2003, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK launched "Operation Ulysses" joint patrols of the high seas in order to combat illegal immigration, whose activity will encompass the western Mediterranean (from Algeciras to Palermo) until 8 February and, subsequently, the Atlantic Ocean (particularly the coast of the Western Sahara) which has become a prime route for migrants seeking to reach Spain through the Canary Islands.

The project was presented by Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes in Palma de Mallorca as "an advance towards the creation" of an EU border police force within an area of freedom, security and justice in which we all want to live". An unnamed official views the scheme as a pilot scheme which may "be accepted by the EU as a whole". A role as observers is envisaged for Germany, Greece, Holland, Norway, Latvia and Poland, as well as Europol and the European Commission. The scheme will have an initial cost of one million euros, involving 116 officers, with the central operative command in Algeciras (Andalucía). It will involve two Spanish Guardia Civil Coast Guard (Servicio Maritimo) patrol boats, the "Rio Guadiaro" and "Rio Pisuerga", the UK´s "Seeke" patrol boat, an Italian navy corvette, a French patrol boat and the Portguese corvette "Cotutinho".

The boats will set up a six-mile-wide "filter rectangle", stopping and identifying vessels that try to pass it. They will return boats or dynghies that are intercepted in international waters to their country of origin, or escort them to the coast if they have entered the waters of EU countries. Interior ministry sources indicate that parallel to "Operation Ulysses" another scheme, "Operation Rio IV", which was previously introduced in airports, will become operational in sea ports, with the aim of strengthening police cooperation and the speedy exchange of information without the need for judicial requests.

Sources: El Mundo 28.1.03; El País 28.1.03, 29.1.03; EFE 28.1.03; ANSA 28.1.03



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