Swedish Coast Guard and police rescue 1422 migrants in Mediterranean

The crew on the last Swedish patrol for this season. Photo: Karin Cars, the Swedish Coast Guard.

The Swedish Coast Guard and the Swedish Police Authority has carried out the last patrol of the season on behalf of Frontex. Swedish crews have rescued a total of 1422 people in 49 rescues off the coast of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean during the winter months.

From October to April each year, the Swedish Coast Guard and the Swedish Police Authority deploy personnel in the Mediterranean on behalf of Frontex, the EU’s joint border force and coast guard. Sweden’s commitment includes preventing drug smuggling and illegal fishing, but most of the time working is spent assisting in search and rescue operations and escorting migrants to shore.

Over the past season, Sweden contributed the police boat Marell M15 and four crews working in shifts off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Each patrol had three Swedish crew members on board, along with a liaison officer from the Italian Guardia di Finanza.

Sharp increase in migrants

Frontex recently reported a sharp increase in the number of migrants entering the EU. Compared with last year, three times as many migrants entered the EU in the first three months of the year via the Central Mediterranean route, which includes Lampedusa. Better weather and political instability are two of the reasons for this extreme increase, which according to Frontex was particularly notable in March. The island of Lampedusa, which is relatively close to the borders of Tunisia and Libya, has long been one of the places where most migrants arrive by boat.

Peter Widlund, who is responsible for foreign assignments at the Swedish Coast Guard, is pleased with the Swedish efforts.

“Sweden has contributed four very talented crews with extensive experience. All our efforts over the past season have been implemented effectively. However, it has been a challenging year in other respects. The boat’s engine failed in the autumn, and it took a long time for spare parts to be delivered to Lampedusa. “All materials are subject to enormous wear and tear during the long working hours,” says Peter Widlund.

Harald Birgander was the commanding officer for the last patrol of the season. He has worked for the Coast Guard in Skåne since 1997 and he and his two police colleagues have more than a hundred years of experience in their respective professions.

“The team spirit has been fantastic here, everyone is always ready to do their bit,” says Harald Birgander, who would also like to emphasise the excellent partnership with the Guardia di Finanza and the Italian Coast Guard.

“Patrolling here in all weathers has been an adventure,” he continues. “We have had to cancel our operations in very stormy weather. ‘Where on earth are we?’ was my first thought when we arrived here in October. Lampedusa is such a tiny island with just seven thousand inhabitants in the middle of the Mediterranean, where hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of migrants arrive every day.”

Professional and taciturn Swedes

Marcella, who works as a crew member on one of the Guardia di Finanza ships in Sicily, served on the last patrol of the season for Sweden. She liaised with the Italian authorities in her capacity as a liaison officer.

“The Swedish crew are very professional,” she says of her Swedish colleagues on board. “They are quiet and care about security.”

Just before the patrol was due to end, an alarm was raised about a potential migrant boat a few nautical miles away, and the Swedish crew was tasked with dealing with it. The experienced team set off at full speed towards their target, which turned out to be a private fishing boat with no migrants on board. The crew was able to end this year’s assignment by quietly heading back to the quay to pack up for the return journey to their regular duties in Sweden.


Between October and April, the Swedish Coast Guard and the Police Authority are tasked with monitoring the EU’s external border by Frontex’s Operation Themis. Swedish crews conducted 224 planned patrols, carried out 49 sea rescues and rescued 1422 migrants in the 2022-23 season.

Changed 1 June 2023 14:23