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The main mission of the German naval deployment to the Mediterranean
is to gather intelligence on the human trafficking networks. The 300
military personnel have been able to gather information from careful
interviewing of the migrants they rescue.
Taranto, Italy (dpa) – For the past two months some 300 German
marines have been deployed to the EU military mission in the
Mediterranean Sea aimed at uncovering human trafficking.
The commander of the frigate Schleswig-Holstein, Captain Marc
Metzger, 42, tells of the gathering of military intelligence and the
sea rescue operations in an interview with dpa.
dpa: You have been sent to the Mediterranean to gather information on
the traffickers’ criminal networks. Given the [amount of time spent
on] rescue operations, do you have time for intelligence gathering?
Metzger: The media do report almost exclusively on the sea rescue
operations. The task of the ships of the EUNAVFOR MED is to gather
information on the traffickers’ criminal networks, and we are
carrying out this task in full. But if we hear of an emergency at sea
or are called on to help, we are naturally ready to do so. Providing
assistance at sea is the duty of every mariner.
dpa: How do you collect information?
Metzger: … We gather information from the people taken on board.
This is done by talking to them and by evaluating documents. We
record information on nationality, place of residence, transit routes
and take fingerprints and photographs.
dpa: Are those saved on German ships questioned systematically?
Metzger: The questioning is voluntary on German ships, as we do not
have executive powers. Troops from the intelligence services conduct
the conversations – they are trained to do this. These troops operate
on land in an environment where they are supposed to maintain
long-term contacts with informants. That is impossible here, as we
have people on board for such a short period. It is thus even more
important that they show sensitivity in the conversations and rapidly
adjust to the people they are talking to.
dpa: What does the EU know today about the trafficking gangs that it
did not know before the deployment?
Metzger: We verify information, for example on collection points,
routes, or the structures in which the networks operate. With the
help of the contributions from ships, helicopters and planes, [we can
assess] the mafia structures that have become established in this
criminal activity, the procedures they use and the links they
dpa: With regard to the sea rescue, how does an operation like this
Metzger: The sea rescue control room in Rome supervises all sea
rescue operations. As a rule we are informed by them that there is an
emergency at sea and we sail to the site of the disaster. The sea
area is about as large as Germany, and effective rescue can only be
managed by a control point that is able to coordinate the ships in
this deployment area.
dpa: What happens at the site of the disaster?
Metzger: We approach with speedboats and explain to the people in
danger how the rescue will proceed. We always have a translator on
board for this who makes the initial contact and calms the people
standing or sitting in these completely overcrowded and unseaworthy
barges and rubber dinghies. They are then brought aboard in small
groups – first the injured and sick, then the women and children and
finally the men. Once aboard they are searched for dangerous items,
undergo a medical check, have their details taken, get something to
eat and drink and are able to wash.
dpa: The troops are often seen in photographs wearing orange or white
protective suits. Don’t the refugees feel like lepers when they are
received like this?
Metzger: When taking shipwreck victims on board we do not know what
diseases our troops could be exposed to. Protecting my troops is
urgently necessary, as if I expose them to risk, I jeopardise the
mission. We always check and assess whether the protective gear is
needed during the operation.
dpa: Are there other dangers? Opponents of the rescue operations
caution that Islamist terrorists could be among the refugees.
Metzger: The threat of terrorism cannot be excluded completely
anywhere. … Given developments in Libya, with the expansion of
terrorist groups and power struggles between militias, it is always
possible that criminals or terrorists infiltrate refugee groups. For
that reason it is necessary to deploy troops to protect those
approaching the refugee boats in a speedboat. These troops are
equipped with bullet-proof vests and weapons.
dpa: Have your experiences changed your view on the migration
Metzger: One experiences the migration issue much more intensively by
hearing at close hand what the survivors say about their flight. The
physical and psychological burden is certainly high, by comparison
with other deployments. But saving a human life is one of the best
experiences that one can have, irrespective of whether one is acting
as a serviceman on deployment or as a civilian. The birth of a little
girl on board my ship on August 24 is certainly one of the most
exceptional experiences that I will take from this deployment.