On the lookout for trouble, the French navy frigate Courbet is plying the Mediterranean with a crew of almost 200 on board, with a helicopter ready for action. Disrupting people smuggling operations is their business, and saving lives.
At four in the morning, marines in swift dingies set out in search of suspicious vessels.
After sunrise, the helicopter takes a closer look at a wooden-hulled boat of migrants that seems to have come from Libya. The engine is still running but the traffickers have taken flight and are nowhere to be found.
The Italian navy will care for the migrants. According to the Courbet’s men, their boat could have never reached the Italian coast.
Wearing simple hazmat suits, the French pick through the rubbish left behind.
“We might look for mobile phones or notebooks people might have written stuff down in. We also keep an eye open for medicines, to know what illnesses there could have been in this boat.”
The refugee boat is sunk with explosives.
Following the principle that the best defence can be a good offence, live rounds are fired off. This exercise is to keep bandits at a distance.
“There is a risk that terrorists could try to ram us with a launch stuffed with explosives, or fire off a rocket close up.”
In 2008, the Courbet took part in anti-piracy operations off the horn of Africa.
Now with the European Union Naval Force, its sites are set on neutralising refugee traffickers in the Mediterranean.