Within the next six months, Greece hopes to organize joint operations with its other Mediterranean European Union partners to clamp down on illegal immigration by sea, which could increase considerably in the event of a US-led war on Iraq. Coast guard sources told Kathimerini that the Merchant Marine Ministry has drafted a plan code-named Triton that calls for cooperation with – principally – Italy and Spain in mounting three- or four-day joint operations along specific areas of the three countries’ maritime borders favored by organized migrant-smuggling rings. Greece is expected to propose implementing the plan within the next six months of its EU presidency. According to the Merchant Marine Ministry, last year the number of illegal immigrants caught entering Greece by sea was almost half that of 2001, mainly as a result of tougher border patrols. A total of 3,945 immigrants were caught in 2002, compared to 6,864 in 2001, while the coast guard arrested 84 Greek and Turkish migrant smugglers and confiscated 67 smuggling ships. Under the Triton plan, joint operations would be coordinated by a center functioning at the Europol central offices and would keep in constant contact with the EU Commission and representatives of Mediterranean states. Yesterday, Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis discussed common action against illegal immigration with EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vittorino, who was in Athens for the formal commencement of Greece’s presidency. Sources said he urged EU funding for measures to stem the flow of illegal immigration, which would include economic aid to help countries like Turkey stop migrants from leaving their shores for the EU.