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Sea Platforms

Finland extends Merikarhu Mediterranean deployment

18 September 2017

The Finnish Border Guard’s (FBG’s) Improved Tursas-class offshore patrol vessel (OPV) Merikarhu will remain at its Greek Adriatic station for another six months, stretching into the beginning of 2018.

FBG OPV Merikarhu is pictured at Pakkahuoneen Quay in Helsinki's South Harbour after returning from its first Mediterranean deployment on 30 May 2016. (John Pagni)FBG OPV Merikarhu is pictured at Pakkahuoneen Quay in Helsinki's South Harbour after returning from its first Mediterranean deployment on 30 May 2016. (John Pagni)

The coastguard patrol vessel departed Helsinki in February to join, for the second time, the European Union's (EU's) Frontex agency's joint Operation 'Poseidon Sea' to increase performance efficiency in search and rescue and border surveillance by intercepting illegal immigration on the EU's southern maritime border.

The 1,118-tonne Merikarhu was first deployed in the eastern Aegean Sea area for five months at the start of 2016, where its C2 and thermal camera equipment proved useful in spotting and co-ordinating interception of illegal refugees being smuggled from Turkey.

For its second mission Merikarhu is based in West Greece at Pýlos, on the Peloponnese south-west coast. Its role includes training multinational crew members from Estonia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania under the auspices of Finnish officers.

As such, Merikarhu is an experiment for Frontex as it tries to find ways of equitably spreading border-control duties among member states. This situation also suits Finland: the FBG's coastguard arm can contribute the OPV, but crew rotation is more problematical and the FBG has had to use some recalled retired officers aboard.

"The experience and feedback has been good," said Colonel Mika Rytkönen, the FBG's head of international affairs. "The international crewing has gone well and we have developed coastguard activities and operations." Tasks also include oil spill recovery and fishing inspections, and Greek fishing officials have been on board at times.

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