The EU Commission supports the Libyan Coast Guard financially and with equipment. In at least five cases, the units have used firearms in maritime distress cases outside their territorial waters.
Once again, the Libyan Coast Guard has threatened people in distress at sea and the crew of a rescue ship with firearms. The incident took place on Saturday morning in international waters, reports SOS Méditerranée. As a European network for civilian sea rescue in the Mediterranean, it operates the “Ocean Viking”.
The ship was notified by the Alarm Phone emergency call network about a rubber dinghy with about 80 people in distress. On the way there, the patrol boat “Zawiyah” of the Libyan Coast Guard appeared and came dangerously close to the “Ocean Viking”, the organisation reported. In Arabic, the rescuers were ordered to leave the area because it was in Libyan waters. According to various reports, however, the “Ocean Viking” was about 36 nautical miles off the Libyan coast and thus far from the sovereign 12-mile zone.
All attempts by the rescuers to contact the “Zawiyah” by radio went unanswered. The Libyan crew behaved increasingly aggressively, threatened with firearms and finally fired shots from an automatic weapon into the air. This is documented in a video published online by SOS Méditerranée. The crew of the rescue ship can also be heard announcing over the radio to leave immediately. This was done at full speed “in view of the threat” to the crew’s safety, writes SOS Méditerranée in a press release.
The civilian surveillance aircraft “Seabird 2” had also made its way to the sea emergency and, according to the rescue organisation Sea-Watch, was able to observe people falling overboard from the overcrowded inflatable boat. Although it was already moored to the stern of the “Zawiyah”, the Libyan crew shot into the water only a few metres away. All the people in the boat were eventually taken on board by the coast guard and brought to Libya, Sea-Watch reported. However, the persons had presumably fled from there.
After the threat, the crew of the “Ocean Viking” prepared a report and sent it to the responsible Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres. It is standard practice to inform the maritime rescue centres in Libya, Malta and Italy about such incidents. Copies of the report were also sent to the maritime authority and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security in Norway, the flag state of the “Ocean Viking”.
This is the second time this year that the Libyan Coast Guard has endangered the safety of people in distress and the crew of the Ocean Viking, writes SOS Méditerranée. Already in January, an ongoing rescue operation had been obstructed.
However, it is by no means the first time that sea rescuers or refugees have been shot at outside Libyan territorial waters. In April 2016, gunmen from a speedboat with Libyan insignia stormed a Sea-Watch vessel and intimidated the crew with gunfire. Four months later, the Libyan Coast Guard fired on a MSF ship during a search and rescue operation, some of the at least 13 bullets damaged the bridge of the rescue ship, the crew fled to a safety room. In October 2019, the German rescue ship “Alan Kurdi” was threatened by two speedboats with Libyan nationality marks, shots were also fired into the air and onto the water. In 2021, a Sea-Watch aircraft was able to observe how the Libyans fired in the direction of an overcrowded rubber dinghy. A year later, a Libyan unit threatened to shoot down the plane with a missile. In January this year, a Médecins Sans Frontières ship was threatened with the use of firearms.
The Libyan Coast Guard, which is part of the military, is supported and trained with EU funds, just like the Coastal Police of the Ministry of the Interior. Italy is responsible for the implementation of the various measures. The patrol boat “Zawiyah” is also said to have been handed over to Libya in this context. On Monday, journalists had therefore asked the EU Commission for a comment on the shooting at its daily press conference. The spokesperson replied that they would “see what the Libyan partners will tell us exactly about this incident”. Only then would there be “then, there will be time and opportunity to talk about the necessary follow-up”.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Dangerous manoeuvres are used to intercept the overcrowded rubber dinghy (Christian Gohdes/ Sea-Watch).