Rescue ship reports Libyan coast guard boarded it in international waters
A humanitarian rescue ship has reported that the Libyan coast guard boarded it in international waters on 26 September and demanded the handover of some 70 migrants who had been rescued from a wooden boat.
The Libyans told the crew on board that it was their territory and then fired shots, probably into the air or sea.
“We told them we don’t return migrants to Libya. After a while, they gave up,” said Axel Steier, a spokesman for the German-based charity Mission Lifeline that performed its first rescue on Tuesday, speaking to Reuters.
A Libyan coast guard spokesman in Tripoli declined to comment, saying he was looking into the matter, while Italy’s coast guard, which coordinates rescues, did not respond to repeated telephone calls according to Reuters.
This is just the latest in a series of similar incidents between the Libyan coast guard and humanitarian rescue ships.
In one recent incident, a Spanish rescue vessel was intercepted in international waters by the Libyan coast guard and ordered to sail towards Tripoli or risk being fired upon, but was eventually allowed to go.
As a result of increasing hostility from the Libyan coast guard, four major humanitarian organisations, including Save the Children, Médecins Sans Frontières, Germany’s Sea Eye and Malta’s Migrant Offshore Aid Station, have suspended their rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
Italy has been training and equipping the Libyan coast guard to help curb the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. According to the International Organization for Migration, the Libyan coast guard has so far this year stopped 16,567 people before they were rescued and taken to Italy.
The number of migrants making it to Italian shores has dropped, but many still continue to risk their lives attempting to make it to Europe.
“There is no longer any work in Libya and you risk being attacked,” a 26-year-old Libyan rescued told the crew of SOS Mediterranee’s Aquarius. “It is impossible to live in Libya, it has become too dangerous.”