In February, the people smugglers who constantly ferry African immigrants to Italy fired on a patrol boat of the Italian Coast Guard because they wanted to take back the small vessel which had just transported hundreds of illegal immigrants.
On Tuesday, it was instead a patrol boat of the Libyan Coast Guard, paid by the traffickers, that fired shots in the air to speed up the transfer of 250 immigrants to the Italian tugboat Asso 21, with the aim, once again, to get their hands on the wooden boat that had carried them, an old tub which will soon be seen again in the waters of the Strait of Sicily with a cargo of Africans bound for Italy, with the complicity of Italy's fleet and that of the European "Triton" mission.
Asso 21 is an Italian private tugboat. Its owner, Mario Mattioli, said: "Our tug was called to carry out this rescue operation of 250 migrants. The smugglers fired in the air and not at our crew or the migrants. They did so to speed up the transfer operation, as if to tell the migrants to hurry up."
Mattioli explained that "the incident occurred in international waters," arguing that a response from the tug's crew was impossible.
He went on: "We are civilians, with only 12 people aboard. We answer these rescue calls primarily to save lives in danger. Theoretically, I do not mean that we should not save them, it might seem like a terrible statement, but as an Italian citizen I'm saying that this migration flow cannot be solved through the use of civilian vessels. Imagine 12 crew members having to handle 250 migrants, many of whom sick, and we certainly have no doctor on board."
With the wooden boat in tow, the Libyan patrol boat sailed back home, guarded by an Italian Navy helicopter the and the "Bergamini" missile frigate, a technological jewel worth half a billion euros but powerless in the face of the mockery made by the small Libyan unit which justified its behavior with the necessity not to leave in the sea an abandoned boat, dangerous for navigation.
But certainly the Asso 21 could have also towed the boat to Italy, where it would have been seized and destroyed. The point, however, is that, if the Libyan soldiers were even prepared to fire in the air to take possession of it, it means that for them it was a rich booty. Given the shortage of boats suffered by the Libyan smugglers and the fact that a boat with 250 seats can earn over half a million euros for a trip, it's easy to understand "the sense of duty" that motivated the Libyan crew.
Less easy to understand is the way Italy surrendered. Italy never uses force to respond to threats, attacks and terrorism, thus risking encouraging traffickers, militants and terrorists representing a constant threat to Italian soldiers and civilians operating close to the Libyan coast.
Of course, according to international law, if the Bergamini frigate had blocked the Libyan patrol boat, it would have committed an act of war. But war against whom? The Libyan state does not exist and that Coast Guard patrol boat responds to a Libyan "government" not recognised by the international community, and chock-full of Islamist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis supported by Qatar and Turkey.
In fact, with a little more courage, Italy could have done more to prevent yet another mockery. But, in order to do that, the military should be given more aggressive rules of engagement, which obviously the current government, like its predecessors, would not have the political capacity to authorise.
Moreover, Italy's "Mare Sicuro" (Safe Sea) operation (another misnomer which is likely to be ridiculed even more than the previous operation called "Mare Nostrum" or Our Sea, the Roman name for the Mediterranean) has shown with this episode not to be a credible deterrent against the Libyan gangs.
The assistance given to 10,000 illegal immigrants brought to Italy just in the recent few days makes everyone think that the Italian ships and the few European ships of the EU-wide Triton operation actually do nothing but continue the work of humanitarian welcoming carried out by Mare Nostrum.
Two days ago, Italy's deputy foreign minister, Lapo Pistelli, condemned Triton without appeal, stating that "the system is not sufficient. In 90 days it has saved 1,700 people, while over the same period our Coast Guard has saved 17,000, 10 times more."
The problem that seems to escape even an intelligent politician like Pistelli is that, in the race to bring more immigrants to Italian shores, the only loser is Italy because, if Italy doesn't refuse to take in more immigrants, their flow will never end, and because the country is not capable in social and financial terms of accommodating these masses.
No-one has ever seen a state so clearly helping criminals and terrorists to enrich themselves, well knowing who profits from the trafficking of human beings.
Illegal immigration flows could be even more intense if the traffickers owned a sufficient number of boats. A great increase in thefts of vessels in all the ports of southern and eastern Mediterranean has been reported.
Theses crimes feed the needs of people smugglers. There are also rumors of a frenetic activity taking place in the small shipyards on the Tunisian coast which have changed their production and now build as quickly as possible rudimentary boats commissioned by Libyan gangs.