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Maritime Multilateralism and Cooperation:



  • to explore the legal challenges that the use of private assets by European Agencies does pose in terms of the law of the sea, the law of jurisdictional immunities, and the law of international responsibility;

  • to address the jurisdictional challenges which may arise in the context of law enforcement or search and rescue by multiple stakeholders in the same region

Description of work

A key factor to the new edifice of the EUMSS is the interagency coordination and the strengthening of synergies among all relevant stakeholders, including FRONTEX, European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), European Maritime Safety Agency, and EU Common Security and Defense Policy missions, such as EUNAVFOR Operation Irini, as well as civil and private partners. This does not come without challenges though, both at an operational and a legal level since it is very likely that their mandates overlap and may also conflict. 

For example, currently in the central Mediterranean Sea there are several missions or stakeholders operating to counter smuggling of migrants and save lives at sea: the FRONTEX-coordinated sea operation Themis with Italy being the Host MS, the EUNAVFOR Operation Irini an Italian national operation, Operation Mare Sicuro, and various NGOs engaged in search and rescue operations. Such multilateral presence of stakeholders with overlapping mandates may give rise to perplexing (legislative and enforcement) jurisdictional questions, but also to conflicts on who has the authority to rescue migrants at sea. 

How does international law address such synergies? Who would be responsible for a potential human rights law violation in the context of such operation, for example for non-saving lives at sea? Is there room for the concept of shared responsibility? What are the consequences of such policies to the concept of borders and border control (de-territorialization of border control at sea? 

Equally innovative and challenging appears the potential of FRONTEX having its own assets, including vessels, as was pledged by President Juncker last year. Notably, EFCA has already leased a private vessel, UK-flagged vessel, Lundy Sentinel, and uses it to conduct fisheries inspections on the high seas. Given that international organisations cannot be the ‘flag States’ under the law of the sea and given that enforcement jurisdiction at sea can be exerted solely by warships or other duly authorized vessels identifiable being in government service, it is inevitable that this new policy brings to the fore a plethora of interesting legal questions, including questions of responsibility and immunities, to be addressed by the present research project.

The work will involve both desk-based research and field research, in terms of interviews with FRONTEX and national authorities. It will lead to two research papers (peer-reviewed articles): one on issues of shared responsibility, and the other on the status of private platforms operated by EU agencies under international law.

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