Albania Bans Speedboats To Curb Trafficking (April 14, 2006)
Officials hope controversial bill will improve the country’s tarnished image in the eyes of its European neighbours.
By Andi Balla in Tirana (Balkan Insight, 12 Apr 06)
In a bid to curb the trafficking that has damaged Albania’s image, Tirana has banned the use of speedboats and other small sea vessels from Albanian territorial waters for three years.
The law, which will primarily affect around 2,000 local speedboat owners, aims to stop traffickers in both people and drugs who have used speedboats to reach the European Union shores of Italy and Greece.
Following parliament’s decision, the only small motorised vessels allowed to go to sea from Albanian shores are police, customs and fishing boats, and foreign-owned tourist yachts.
Critics say the law is unnecessary, and that stricter enforcement of existing legislation over the past two years had already cut the number of speedboats used for trafficking.
Officials disagree, insisting that the country’s image is at stake and that coastguards cannot effectively patrol the entire coastline and territorial waters.
The Albanian prime minister, Sali Berisha, told parliament that the ban was a price Albania must pay as it seeks more liberal visa arrangements with the EU.
“We are a country asking to become integrated into the European Union,” he said. “I guarantee that we will not become integrated through illegal trafficking and exporting crime, which is why we need to solve our problems with dignity and move forward toward the EU and NATO.”
Berisha received backing for the legislation from a range of foreign politicians, including the British home secretary Charles Clarke and the EU’s justice commissioner, Franco Frattini.
During an official visit in Tirana this week Clarke praised the new law as a step in the fight against illegal immigration, organised crime and terrorism.
“I was very interested to learn about the measures being undertaken regarding speedboats that can be used for trafficking, and I would like to congratulate you on that initiative,” Clarke told his hosts.
Frattini threw his weight behind the law in an interview on an Albanian television station. “It is extremely important that the ban on super-fast boats be implemented for a certain period,” he said, “because they are often used to transport illegal emigrants, drugs and weapons.”
Frattini added, “The memorandum is a positive signal coming out of Albania.”
Albania’s opposition parties were less supportive of the measure.
Edi Rama, head of the main opposition Socialist Party, said the need to resort to such laws revealed the government’s incompetence when it came to tackling traffickers.
The law would criminalise too many people, he said, “directly hitting tourism, fishing and other important sectors of the country.”
Ilir Meta, of the Socialist Movement for Integration, complained that the law was discriminatory, as it exempted foreign-owned boats.
“If the British government had passed such a law, it would not last more than 24 hours,” Meta claimed.
The Mjaft Movement, a grassroots civil action organisation, also came out against the law, staging a protest in front of parliament.
“The moratorium shows the government is incapable of controlling and fighting illegal movements and is aiming to solve the symptoms, not the problem,” Mjaft’s spokesman, Endri Fuga, told Balkan Insight.
“This law won’t punish lawbreakers but citizens carrying out legal activities,” Fuga added.
Mjaft argues that the ban directly restricts the rights of free movement and ownership.
The most likely testing grounds for the new law are the seaside towns of Vlora in the south and Shengjin in the north, which in the past have been launching pads for illegal migrants heading to Italy, as well as having large fishing fleets and booming tourism industries.
Fishermen and tourist guides have already staged protests in Vlora and are threatening to do the same in Shengjin.
Fishermen, many of whom operate without licenses out of speedboats, say the law fails to precisely determine what constitutes a lawful fishing vessel.
Tourist guides, who use speedboats for maritime trips and for teaching diving, say the ban will ruin their livelihoods.
To avoid such adverse effects, some parliamentarians initially proposed lifting the ban during the summer months, but they did not succeed.
Many of the law’s critics are now calling on President Alfred Moisiu to use his right of veto and are also vowing to challenge it in the Constitutional Court .
But Berisha is standing firm. He has argued for months that decisive moves were needed to stem a trade in drugs and people that has attracted international opprobrium.
“We cannot allow the export of criminality and drugs to the countries with which we hope to integrate,” he said, referring to Albania’s long-term hopes of joining the EU.
Berisha said the measure would markedly improve the country’s tarnished international image as a crime haven, dealing a blow to “the merchants of death who are blackening the image of Albania".
However, the law may have come too late. Recent years have seen a lull in trafficking by speedboats, as the smugglers turn back to more traditional means of transport, such as lorries and buses.
In early March the authorities found three would-be emigrants from Macedonia dead in the back of a sealed lorry that was crossing Albania in transit for Italy. In other recent incidents, Greek police have found drugs and weapons hidden on buses crossing from Albania.
Andi Balla is the managing editor of the weekly English-language newspaper Tirana Times and a Balkan Insight contributor. Balkan Insight is BIRN’s online publication
Source: Balkan Investigative Reporting Network