Five migrants dead as Libyan coastguard clashes with rescue mission

Photo credit: AP. Migrants swim from the Libyan coastguard vessel toward the Sea-Watch boat after realising there was not enough space for them on board.

TMP – 14/11/2017

Five migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean during a thwarted rescue attempt after a clash between a charity boat operated by German NGO Sea-Watch and the Libyan coastguard.

A group of migrants were attempting to cross the sea from Libya to Europe when their rubber dinghy started to fail, just north of Tripoli. A vessel belonging to German non-profit Sea-Watch was the first to reach the migrants and began coordinating a rescue mission, along with a French warship and an Italian helicopter, before being interrupted by the Libyan coastguard.

Sea-Watch accused the coastguard of beating the migrants while throwing life buoys at their vessel, allegedly sparking chaos and panic.

A statement released by Sea-Watch said: “…mainly, people climbed onto the Libyan Coast Guard vessel themselves in fear of their lives without assistance by the coast guards. The Libyans’ aggressive and uncoordinated behaviour caused more stress and chaos than relief.”

“When the Libyan Coast Guards started to beat and threaten people on their vessel, some tried to jump back into the water,” the statement continued.

According to Sea-Watch’s report, as soon as the Libyan coastguard had loaded as many people as they could on board their boat it “departed the scene at full speed, even though one person was still hanging on to the side”.

The Italian helicopter was able rescue the man but five other migrants, including one child, perished in the water.

Libya blames Sea-Watch for the fatalities, saying the NGO interrupted the coastguard’s rescue work.