The Italian Navy operation Mare Nostrum launched after a boat carrying migrants from Africa sank just off the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013, drowning more than 350 people.
The colossal wave of migration due to wars and poverty was becoming a humanitarian crisis and the Italian government tasked the Navy with an operation that had military, humanitarian and health aspects: capture the mother ships that towed migrant boats across the Mediterranean, stop the Mediterranean from becoming a sea of the dead, and ensure people with infectious diseases were identified before they entered Italian territory.
The results were extraordinary. We teamed with the police, NGOs, the Red Cross and the Italian health ministry and installed isolation chambers on vessels well before the Ebola crisis.
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We used 32 vessels, saved over 150,000 people, arrested 366 traffickers and captured nine mother ships in operations carried out 350 nautical miles from the Italian coast. Submarines took images that helped Italian prosecutors write arrest warrants. We also needed to open fire to force vessels to stop as traffickers showed themselves to be good sailors as well as determined.
Following a decision by the Italian government on Oct. 31, and with the launch of a European Union operation, Mare Nostrum ended, but the Navy has made an operational center available to coordinate the assets being used and avoid overlaps in international waters where the Navy needs to be in charge.
The experience of Mare Nostrum has helped shape the design of Italy's new frigates, which are dual use and can engage in large-scale rescues. Openings on the sides of the vessels allow people to disembark from fishing boats as they would on a dock.
These ships will have a large space under the flight deck which is wired and plumbed so containers with bathrooms or hospital facilities can be installed, not to mention sleeping quarters. We will also be able to store large inflatable boats for special forces, which can be used, alongside landing craft, to evacuate Italian nationals from conflicts where helicopters are vulnerable to man-portable air-defense systems.
I think this is the future. Increasingly, I don't think countries will be able to deploy separate naval forces for policing, civil use and military use. I believe a navy must be designed from the start to be as flexible as possible.
There are other innovations on the new ships. We are aiming to use electric propulsion up to 10 knots and to use bio-fuel and liquid gas fuel. The fuel tanks are being designed to use regular fuel as well as liquid gas. I think we are the first to do this.
Additionally, the frigates will be able to provide electricity and drinking water for a community of 6,000 hit by a natural disaster.
We will also be able to carry sea-skimming robots to clear up pollution on the surface, with the polluted water then stored in the tanks of a new refueling ship we are also designing.
I believe these features will be adopted by other navies.
Finally, we aim to sign a contract for these new vessels before Christmas, just one year after the funding was approved, using in-house design capability at the Navy, which is a really rapid turnaround.