For years before the EU finally decided to recognize and act on the problem, the Italian Navy was at the forefront in rescuing migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. It seems as though they, in turn, are responsible for rescuing the future of the Italian Navy itself.
With the possible exception of Germany and Sweden’s overwhelmed immigration agencies, few institutions on the front lines of the migrant crisis have played a more prominent role than the Italian Navy.
Every day, its ships and sailors rescue dozens — sometimes hundreds — of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean in leaky, overcrowded vessels. Over the course of the past year, the Italian Navy rescued 47,335 men and women in trouble at sea, according to Defense Ministry statistics. On May 6, Italian sailors rescued nearly 1,800 within 24 hours; on one day in August last year, they rescued 3,000 — and then they made sure to tweet about it.
And somewhere along the way, the Navy has managed to parlay these rescues into a popularity boost: one that has turned sailors into heroes and helped the maritime services secure funding for long into the future.
In the funding package, approved last year, Italy’s government granted the Navy €5.4 billion for new vessels.
By contrast, there has been plenty of opposition to buying additional F-35 fighter jets for the Italian Air Force. (In 2012, the government cut back on the number of aircraft it planned on purchasing.) “People’s attitude was, what do you want these planes for? Do you want to bomb something?” said Fabrizio Coticchia, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Genoa and co-author of Venus in Arms, a blog about Italian defense.
“Italian public opinion is usually opposed to acquisitions of military equipment deemed to be offensive, but Italians like humanitarian operations,” said Coticchia.
The article is interesting, and worth the read. The funding secured by the Italian Navy will create many jobs for both ship builders and naval officers, and of course it part of the fleet will also be used in a “defensive” role, increasing patrols which could hopefully intercept smuggling and trafficking.
The lifeblood that has been pumped into the Italian Navy will most likely outlive the migrant crisis itself, but I find this to be an interesting turn of events. Who knew, in the midst of this crisis, a golden PR opportunity could emerge for the Italian Navy?