Mission 'Mare Nostrum', 2013–2014
: a framework of analysis for maritime search and rescue operations

  • Maurizio Carmini

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The Mediterranean Sea has long been a stage for complex interactions between the requirements of maritime security and the dynamics of irregular migration. This interrelationship has recently become more pronounced, with the unfolding of the refugee and migrant crisis on the doorstep of the European Union. Despite the support for missions at sea, EU stakeholders have shown conflicting interests in supporting different models of maritime operations. Mission Mare Nostrum, a purely Italian state-led initiative, was enacted in 2013 to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and reduce migrant smuggling and trafficking. This research seeks to examine the effectiveness of combining search and rescue maritime missions and pro-security operations in order to save lives and reduce migrant smuggling. Mare Nostrum combined the two approaches in response to the migration crisis, and thus was a suitable case study to highlight the value and efficacy of maritime security operations and their interconnection with irregular migration. Through an analytical framework which could be applied to evaluating similar missions, this study assessed how Mare Nostrum has shaped subsequent maritime operations in the Mediterranean Sea since 2013, and redefined policies around such operations. Using a qualitative case study method guided by an abductive approach and interpretive paradigm, data gleaned from documentary analysis and interviews show that Mare Nostrum was effective in reducing fatalities at sea, smuggling, and trafficking of migrants. The findings of this research also illustrate that, although the operation was sufficiently funded, it could not eradicate migrant smuggling and trafficking because other underlying aspects – such as political instability, civil insecurity, and socioeconomic issues – were critical push factors for irregular migration. The main conclusion drawn from this study is that more collaboration amongst stakeholders in the EU and neighbouring countries is needed to find lasting solutions because deploying maritime operations alone is not an adequate response to end the cross-Mediterranean migration crisis. In the hope of ultimately contributing to knowledge regarding European maritime security studies, this thesis recommends new policies at the international level for addressing irregular migration by sea through maritime operations.
Date of Award14 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorFranz Peter Lehr (Supervisor) & Javier Argomaniz (Supervisor)


  • Cross-Mediterranean migration crisis
  • Humanitarian
  • Immigration
  • EU
  • Maritime law
  • Mare Nostrum
  • Search and rescue maritime operations
  • Migrants
  • Refugees
  • Security
  • Human trafficking
  • Frontex
  • Italy

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