Italy formally handed over four refurbished Bigliani-class patrol boats to Libya's Tripoli-based coastguard on 15 May as part of an effort to stem illegal immigration from North Africa to Europe, the Italian Foreign Ministry announced.
It added that the four patrol boats were repaired in Gaeta, Italy and that by June the Libyan Coast Guard will receive another six patrol boats of an unidentified type that are being repaired in Tunisia, making it the "strongest [coastguard] in North Africa".
Six Bigliani boats that were originally built for Italy's Guarda di Finanza were transferred to the Libyan Coast Guard in 2009-10.
The Italian Interior Ministry announced on 21 April that the first 20 Libyan coastguard personnel had been trained by the Guardia di Finanza at the Nautical School in Gaeta and would return home with the first two refurbished patrol boats. Another 19 Libyans would then be trained before returning with the second two boats.
It is unclear what boats are being repaired in Tunisia for the Libyan Coast Guard.
The handing over of the four Biglianis came after the German NGO Sea-Watch released video footage of an armed Libyan patrol vessel that it said was acting illegally and dangerously when it picked up migrants from an overcrowded boat in international waters on 10 May. The patrol boat was seen cutting across the bow of the Sea-Watch vessel that was trying to rescue the migrants. The Libyans then moved the migrants to their vessel without providing them with buoyancy aids.
Sea-Watch said a similar incident on 21 October 2016 had resulted in several dozen people drowning and called on the European Union to stop encouraging the Libyan navy and coastguards to pick up migrants in international waters.
The European Union announced in October 2016 that its Operation 'Sophia' naval mission in the Mediterranean had launched a training programme for Libya's navy and coastguard focused on disrupting smuggling and human trafficking, as well as search-and-rescue activities.
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