EU agency awaits requests for new maritime rescue drone

The Maritime Safety Agency EMSA has signed a four-year contract for new drone flights. But operational locations are still unclear because required flight permits and approvals are causing problems.

The European Union’s seas are increasingly becoming testing tracks for drone surveillance. The border agency Frontex has been monitoring the Libyan sea rescue zone for a year with an Israeli „Heron 1“; boats with refugees are reported to the coast guard in Libya for forced returns. Now Frontex wants to station such a long-range drone on Crete.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) also uses drones for maritime surveillance and was even significantly faster than Frontex in doing so. After a joint test six years ago, EMSA had been looking for companies to fly drones, and in the meantime the Lisbon-based agency has spent a three-digit million sum on them. „EU agency awaits requests for new maritime rescue drone“ weiterlesen

European Court of Justice: Controls at the Schengen borders may not be extended arbitrarily

Some EU members still control their internal borders excessively. However, exceeding the time limit of six months is incompatible with the Schengen Borders Code. Governments and the EU Commission must now react.

The lifting of internal border controls is often praised as the greatest achievement of the European Union. However, especially for migration control, many countries have made use of the possibility of temporary reintroduction and have extended this regulation, sometimes dozens of times. This is contrary to EU law, ruled the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) in Luxembourg last week.

The case was brought by the Austrian citizen N.W., who refused to show his passport at a checkpoint at the Slovenian border in Austria and was ordered to pay a €36 fine for this according to a court ruling. In a second case, W. challenged the judgement. The Regional Administrative Court of Styria therefore referred the matter to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling. Now the courts in Austria have to deal with it again. „European Court of Justice: Controls at the Schengen borders may not be extended arbitrarily“ weiterlesen

Mediterranean Sea: Frontex claims to have detected 13,000 refugees with drones

After in Malta, the EU border agency is now stationing a long-range drone on Crete. There is contradictory information on the surveillance technology on board.

According to its own figures, Frontex has detected at least 13,000 refugees in 300 cases with the help of long-range drones and reported them to the responsible coast guards. Since May last year, the EU border agency has stationed a Heron 1 from the Israeli arms company IAI in Malta for such missions. The drone is officially registered to the Maltese Air Force.

The contract for Frontex drones was awarded to the German branch of the Airbus Group in Bremen, which also flies four Heron 1s for the German armed forces in Mali. They are controlled from a mobile facility located at the international airport near the Maltese capital Valletta. Other Airbus technicians are responsible for maintenance and repairs there. „Mediterranean Sea: Frontex claims to have detected 13,000 refugees with drones“ weiterlesen

EU Commission continues to upgrade surveillance in Libya – and worries about its reputation

The EU is using development aid funds to finance a deployable radar system for the Libyan coast guard. The force, known for its brutality, wants to use it to detect refugees crossing to Europe. Then they will be intercepted by three new patrol boats.

Since 2017, the European Union has been investing in increased surveillance of Libya’s maritime borders. As part of the project „Support to Integrated Border Management and Migration Management in Libya – SIBMMIL“, Italy was tasked with installing a Maritime Coordination Centre in the capital Tripoli and defining a sea rescue zone, where the Libyan Coast Guard has been responsible ever since.

The establishment of the centre was initially financed by the EU with €42 million from the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, and a further €15 million was approved for a second phase of the project. However, neither the EU Commission nor the EU Council could say where the facility is located. It is therefore unclear what the money was spent on and where the purchased equipment has remained. „EU Commission continues to upgrade surveillance in Libya – and worries about its reputation“ weiterlesen

Frontex has air superiority

With its aerial surveillance, from space and soon possibly from the stratosphere, the EU border agency is becoming a quasi-secret service

Twice in the past six years, the EU has drastically expanded Frontex’s powers. In 2016, the agency was allowed to purchase its own equipment, and first began leasing its own aircraft. As a „Frontex Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS), they observe the central Mediterranean, the so-called Balkan route and the Aegean. Frontex is thus saying goodbye to the principle of always borrowing personnel and equipment for its missions from the member states.This gives the agency considerably more creative power with less control over its activities at the same time.

The FASS flights can be requested by any EU member state with an external border. The decision whether to deploy lies with Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri. Italy first made use of this in 2017, followed by the first deployment at a land border in Croatia in 2018. In the meantime, FASS aircraft are also flying in Montenegro, Greece and other countries. „Frontex has air superiority“ weiterlesen

EU development aid: Italy is gifting more surveillance technology to the Libyan coastguard

With a mobile maritime monitoring centre, EU member states hope to improve the migration deterrence of authorities in Libya. The delivery with an Italian warship is also a signal to Turkey.

Libya has received new technology for monitoring the Mediterranean Sea from Italy. The equipment, financed with EU funds, is installed in containers and was brought to Tripoli by the „San Giorgio“ helicopter carrier. The daily newspaper „Repubblica“ describes the transfer as a „covert operation“. However, it is the long-announced delivery of a mobile Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC).

It is being financed from development aid funds within the framework of the EU project „Support to Integrated Border and Migration Management in Libya“ (SIBMMIL). In a first phase, the EU had approved €46 million from the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa for this purpose, followed by another €15 million in 2018. With this money, the EU wants to equip the Libyan coast guard for better migration deterrence. „EU development aid: Italy is gifting more surveillance technology to the Libyan coastguard“ weiterlesen

Coordination by Europol: Special Intervention Units train with drone carrying explosives and robot dog

Since this year, the ATLAS network has had a Support Office at Europol, with which the police agency coordinates cross-border operations of units from Schengen states. Most of the money from the coming budget will again go to police forces from Germany.

The European Union is further expanding its association of special police units.The so-called ATLAS network, in which 38 Special Intervention Units (SIUs) from the Schengen states coordinate, is working with Europol to build up new capabilities. This is stated in a work programme for 2023 published by the British civil rights organisation Statewatch. According to this, Great Britain will also participate in the cooperation after Brexit.

The ATLAS network, founded after the attacks of 11 September 2001, has been part of the structures of the European Union since 2008 and is managed as one of the 18 expert groups of the Council Working Group on Law Enforcement. The EU wants to use it to prepare for major police situations that require support from other member states. This concerns operations in the event of terrorist attacks, serious and organised crime or other „crisis situations“. „Coordination by Europol: Special Intervention Units train with drone carrying explosives and robot dog“ weiterlesen

EU drones for people in distress: Dropping life rafts for pullbacks?

For the first time, drones are flying on behalf of an EU agency with rescue equipment on board. On the high seas, the actually useful technology could encourage illegal refoulements to countries like Libya. Perhaps the new function will only be used for minor maritime emergencies in European waters.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has awarded a new €30 million contract for drone services. It has gone to the Portuguese company Tekever, which is flying an „AR5“ for EMSA since 2016. Reconnaissance missions of this fixed-wing drone are carried out for coast guards of the Schengen member states, that have to submit a corresponding request to the agency for this purpose. According to the tender, the EMSA drones are also to monitor the Mediterranean Sea within the framework of missions of the border agency Frontex.

Tekever equips the „AR5“ with radars, day and night cameras as well as receivers for signals from ships or emergency systems. They can stay in the air for more than 12 hours. In Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, among others, the „AR5s“ have completed more than 1,200 flight hours in almost 250 missions, including surveillance and safety at sea, detecting pollution or combating illegal fishing. „EU drones for people in distress: Dropping life rafts for pullbacks?“ weiterlesen

WhatsApp to Libya: How Frontex uses a trick to circumvent international law

The EU is not allowed to return refugees to countries where they face persecution. In 2017, the Commission therefore set up a backdoor for refoulement to North Africa. Published text messages now reveal how Frontex is providing aerial reconnaissance for the Libyan coast guard.

Four years ago, Frontex began setting up its aerial surveillance over the central Mediterranean. Under a new regulation from 2016, the European Border Agency is allowed to buy or lease its own equipment. With the change, the EU wanted to respond to the increasing number of people seeking protection at its external borders. Frontex has since invested hundreds of millions of Euros in charter flights with small planes from European companies that monitor the central Mediterranean and the so-called Balkan route with cameras and radar equipment.

For the now increasingly powerful agency, this flight service is of central importance, which is also reflected in the annual expenditure. This year alone, Frontex is spending a third of the budget earmarked for operations on aerial reconnaissance. Meanwhile, Frontex has supplemented its chartered aircraft with a drone with much greater endurance. „WhatsApp to Libya: How Frontex uses a trick to circumvent international law“ weiterlesen

Joint exercise in Israel: German Luftwaffe take part in training with armed drones for the first time

Soldiers from four NATO countries have exercised with the Israeli Air Force in the use of „live-fire munitions“ with drones. A German squadron took over the reconnaissance. All drones ordered by the Bundeswehr in Israel are to be delivered this month. The new Bundestag will decide on their armament.

Before the German Air Force has armed drones at its disposal, it needs a corresponding Bundestag decision. Their „Heron TP“ ordered in Israel will therefore remain unarmed for the time being. The Bundeswehr also wanted to refrain from training with an armed version of these long-range drones – provided, for example, by the Israeli trainers – until a positive vote by the members of parliament. This was the assurance given by the Ministry of Defence in its answer to earlier parliamentary questions.

In July, however, German pilots took part in at least one such training on an Israeli firing range. Under the name „Blue Guardian“, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had for the first time organised a ten-day drone exercise at the Palmachim base south of Tel Aviv. In addition to the Bundeswehr, units from the USA, Great Britain, France and Italy took part. All four countries have combat drones or want to arm them quickly, as in the case of Italy. „Joint exercise in Israel: German Luftwaffe take part in training with armed drones for the first time“ weiterlesen