Italian coast guard to carry weapons in response to IS threat

Naples: Italy’s coast guard has passed a resolution to allow its teams to carry weapons, after threats from Islamic State (IS) extremists and clashes with people smugglers.

On Thursday, the coast guard’s general command appealed to Italy’s Transport Ministry, asking that the force be given similar status to the police, which would allow the agency to carry firearms. The request was subsequently granted.

The general command told the Ministry that having to rely on other forces for protection was “humiliating” and was “seriously undermining staff morale”. The coast guard has 11,000 member of staff across Italy.

Just two weeks ago, general commander of the coast guard Admiral Angrisano told press there were no plans to arm officers, saying the coast guard’s purpose is to “save lives, not to fight”.

However, the coastguard’s U-turn has come in response to increasing threats from IS. In an execution video posted online, extremists said the group had a presence south of the Italian capital and would “conquer Rome with Allah’s permission”.

On February 15, four smugglers armed with Kalashnikovs attacked an Italian coast guard boat that was attempting to rescue around 200 migrants adrift in a small boat off the coast of Libya. The coast guard team was to hand over the empty vessel to the smugglers.

Italy’s federation of shipowners has urged the government to order the navy to carry out maritime patrols in international waters between Italy and North Africa.

Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.
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