Monday, 24 February 2020

Italy in talks to sell frigates to Egypt

Antonio Marceglia -

Italy in talks to sell frigates to Egypt

By: Tom Kington    

ROME – Italy is negotiating to sell two FREMM frigates to Egypt as local conflicts, rivalries over natural gas and shifting alliances ratchet up naval competition in the Mediterranean.

The talks by Italy’s Fincantieri to sell the two vessels to Egypt were confirmed this month by Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio and Fincantieri CEO Giuseppe Bono following days of press speculation a deal was on the cards.

What makes Italy’s offer particularly appealing to Egypt is that the vessels are almost ready. Fincantieri is proposing to sell Cairo the final two of ten frigates now being built for the Italian navy.

The plan is to divert the two vessels to Egypt, then win a top-up order from Italy to complete the Italian navy’s complement of ships.

Of the two frigates in question, the Emilio Bianchi was launched in January and was due for delivery to the Italian navy in 2021, while the Spartaco Schergat is due for delivery in a few months.

With a displacement of 6,700 tonnes, the 144 meter long Emilio Bianchi can reach a top speed of 27 knots.

The two vessels, which may Egypt may buy for around €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) for the pair, are general-purpose variants of the FREMM frigate. If they are sold to Egypt, the Italian navy may decide to order its replacement ships with anti-submarine warfare capabilities, an upgrade reflecting heightened tensions in the Mediterranean.

News of the deal drew criticism in Italy from politicians who have been concerned over human rights abuses in Egypt since with the arrest, torture and murder in Cairo in 2016 of an Italian PhD student, Giulio Regeni. Italian prosecutors have named members of Egypt’s security services they suspect ordered the arrest, but the Egyptian government has done little to cooperate in the investigation.

Italy has also found itself on the other side from Egypt in the proxy conflict underway in Libya, where Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE back the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who is trying to conquer the capital Tripoli.

Italy is lined up with Turkey and Qatar defending the UN-backed government in Tripoli run by Fayez al-Sarraj.

But in recent weeks, the dynamics of the conflict have changed after Turkey sent military backing, including Syrian fighters, to help Al Sarraj defend Tripoli against Haftar’s forces, contrary to Italy’s call for a negotiated solution to the fighting.

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