The Belgian frigate Léopold I rescued 258 immigrants from a trafficker’s boat in distress. It was half-way between the East of the Mediterranean Sea and Italy, the Defence department said in a press release. “After destroying the unoccupied vessel, which was a danger for navigation, the ship headed towards a European port to take those rescued to local authorities”, it read.
In total, 258 people, including 4 women and 196 children, were taken on board the military vessel. The Léopold I had been following the fishing boat they believed belonged to human traffickers at a distance for 2 days, the Defence department said. “Using radar, infra-red cameras and other long-distance sensors, the frigate was able to remain invisible, so the people smugglers wouldn’t run. They were also able to gather as much information as possible before acting”.
A helicopter was sent to scout for it. The helicopter confirmed a large number of people were on board the boat, “that it had broken down and there were signs of distress”. The boat was immobile, the Defence department said in its press release. “Rescue procedures were launched so the frigate could act as soon as possible”.
The Belgian frigate and its crew of 164 people have been part of the EU Nav For operation since October, and will remain so until the end of December. During the second phase of the operation, European war ships – including the Léopold I – will be able to arrest, search, seize and reroute boats they suspect are being used by people smugglers, so long as they don’t enter Libyan territorial waters.