Italian Navy Fieldtrip

Webster Geneva Delegation Visits Italian Navy’s Shipyard and Academy

From 20 to 22 April, a group of International Relations students and research fellows led by Professor Oreste Foppiani visited the Italian Navy’s Shipyard, home to the 7th Italian European Multi-Mission Frigate (EMMF or FREMM), the Naval Academy, and the picturesque village of Monterosso al Mare in the UNESCO Heritage Site and Regional Park of Cinque Terre.

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“The best ambassador of every nation is its Navy; that is why this visit was fundamental to understand this important dual-use armed force. The trip was also a unique opportunity to go on board ITS Federico Martinengo, a brand-new EMMF, which will soon be at sea to search and rescue migrants in the Mediterranean,” said Foppiani, Head of the Department of International Relations at Webster University Geneva.  

Great start in Spezia

In the naval city of Spezia, the Webster delegation got a rare tour of the Fincantieri Shipyard, where the 7th EMMF is entering its third and final year of construction. Mr. D’Eugenio, a mechanical engineer responsible for the construction of the €400-million frigate, walked the delegation through the main workshops and phases of shipbuilding, from cutting the first sheets of reinforced steel to welding the bridge (the ship’s Command-and-Control Center) and forging vessels capable of complex military and humanitarian operations.

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The jewel in the crown was a tour on board ITS Federico Martinengo, which will be fully operational in early 2018. Circa 144 meters long and weighing 6 700 tons, ITS Martinengo is a joint Italian-French project under the framework of the Organisation Conjointe de Cooperation sur l'Armement (OCCAR). The Webster group was impressed with the on-board facilities, including the high-tech bridge, the first-aid unit, and the kitchen equipped to cater for a crew of 200 expected to spend up to 6 months at sea.

“We have a good cooperation with France and other countries in the European Union (EU), and we know that together we are strong,” said newly-appointed ITS Federico Martinengo’s captain, Commander Andrea Quondamatteo. Adding that “the Navy is a country’s calling card,” Commander Quondamatteo highlighted the importance of naval diplomacy and of the multiple missions that the FREMM can undertake, from humanitarian and Search-and-Rescue operations at sea to ensure maritime security and fighting human smugglers.

A day in the life of a Naval Academy student/Finding the Polar Star in the Naval Academy

An hour’s drive from Spezia, Leghorn is home to Italy’s only Naval Academy (est. 1881) and one of the country’s most competitive higher learning institutions. Indeed, 20 000 candidates applied in 2016, but only 100 were selected for 5 years of rigorous training at the end of which graduates can become line offices, naval & maritime engineers, medics, supply or coast guard officers. The chosen few join a resilient institution that survived the bombings of World War II and got rebuilt into a spacious building whose walls and floors are adorned with motivational quotes and drawings of major constellations.

Led by Ensign Andrea Bonasera, a Naval Academy’s 5th-year student, the Webster group found themselves on a ship bridge again. This time, it was a training bridge, simulating the weather conditions and force of the sea to give naval students and first-time Webster visitors a taste of ship life. The next stop was the Planetarium, where the Webster group learned how to find the tiny but crucial star in navigation – the Polar Star.

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The life of a Naval Academy student is hectic but fulfilling, filled with high-level mathematics, theory, sports, and professional activities. “The summer camp is the most important phase of the military education,” said Bonasera as he explained the annual 3-month voyage that students undertake each year on ITS Amerigo Vespucci, the most famous Italian Navy training ship. The most beautiful moment is at the end of the summer campaign, when first-year students spend 3 days together choosing the name and motto of their cohort, sowing their flag and bonding for the four years of training to come. However, it is not all summer campaigns and thorough training. At the end of the visit, the Webster delegation was shown the Academy’s large and bright courtyard, with students’ dorms overlooking the port. “Until a few years ago, first-year students would climb down their rooms on ropes,” explained Bonasera.

 

At home with the first “Italian Navy Seals”

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After the Naval Academy, the Webster group visited the historical site in Migliarino di Vecchiano where the Decima Flottiglia MAS, an elite World War II Italian naval unit, trained between 1936 and 1943. Known as “human torpedoes,” members of the 30-strong unit went through a tough regime of training by night in winter-cold waters and disguising as students by day with the end goal of “fighting undercover and underwater with small submarines and assault boats armed with a variety of torpedoes – pioneering tactics that remain a standard for Special Forces around the world today.”

Breath-taking sights and excellent food in Monterosso al Mare

Followed by a ride through the Vespa World at the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera (Pisa)

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After two full days of visits, the Webster delegation enjoyed the sights and tastes of Monterosso al Mare, one of the five UNESCO-heritage villages of Cinque Terre inspiration for one of Italy’s most famous poets, such as Eugenio Montale. “The terraced houses, colorful family boutiques, and mouth-watering food at Miky’s made for a perfect ending to a great trip,” said one of the participants.

Text by Oana Scarlatescu

Photographs by Andrea Quondamatteo and Oreste Foppiani