Migrant deaths highlight African ills that US-led coalition aims to tackle

Adm. James Foggo, commander of Naval Forces Europe and Africa.


By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 3, 2018

NAPLES, Italy — The 76 migrants from Libya who drowned in June when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean represent the human trafficking, corruption and political instability in parts of Africa that require international cooperation to overcome, the Navy’s top commander in Europe and Africa said Monday.

Human traffickers take advantage of illegal immigration and corrupt African officials who take bribes to look the other way, which is why 117 migrants made a perilous crossing in a faulty boat that sank, said Adm. James Foggo, commander of Naval Forces Europe and Africa, at a seminar on how to strengthen Africa’s maritime security.

“They all had tragic stories to tell, particularly the women, about the way they were treated along the way,” Foggo said, referring to survivors’ stories about their experiences. “The problem is broader than somebody paying money to get on a boat and try to get safe haven in Europe. It’s about the smugglers and traffickers facilitating this.”

It’s also a failure of their governments to protect them and provide them with a means to feed their families, he said. The U.S. and its allies must help African nations achieve greater stability, stronger rule of law, and economic and prosperity to combat the criminal elements, he added.

Delegates from 28 countries are attending the week-long seminar in Naples, including Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command. It opened on Monday.

The seminars used to be every two years but now will take place every 18 months, said Capt. John Perkins, spokesman for Naval Forces Europe and Africa.

The aim of the conferences is to improve partnerships between the U.S., Europe and Africa so they can better police the waters around the continent and tackle problems such as human trafficking and terrorism. Then the countries are in a better position to prevent incidents such as the migrants drowning, Foggo said.

The USNS Trenton rescued 42 migrants after their boat capsized, but six survivors told an Italian newspaper that they tried to flag down the Trenton hours earlier while the boat was still afloat and the ship didn’t respond.

The survivors’ testimonies indicate their boat capsized between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., which means it would have been dark when they tried to signal the Trenton, making it difficult for the crew to spot a small boat in rough seas, Military Sealift Command said.

“We did everything humanly possible,” Foggo said.

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Adm.James Foggo gives a presentation on Monday Dec. 3, 2018 on improving maritime security in Africa. Delegates from 28 countries are attending the weeklong seminar at the Navy's base in Naples, Italy.

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