Group says Libyan coast guard opened fire on rescue ship IG News

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CAIRO (AP) – Libya’s coast guard fired warning shots at a humanitarian ship as it attempted to rescue a rubber boat carrying migrants off the Libyan coast, a maritime rescue group said. The Coast Guard returned nearly 80 Europe-bound migrants to Libyan soil.

Saturday’s incident in international waters was the latest reckless maritime interception of migrants by Libya’s coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union to stem the influx of migrants to Europe, said the SOS Mediterranean group, whose vessel warned The Coast Guard went

A spokesman for the Coast Guard did not respond to a request for comment.

The Ocean Viking, a rescue ship chartered and run by the non-profit SOS Mediterranean, was responding to a distress call for help on a rubber boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea when a Libyan coast guard ship arrived on the scene , the group said.

The coast guard vessel “dangerously” approached the rescue ship, threatening its crew with “guns and firing shots into the air,” SOS Mediterranean said in a statement.

The Coast Guard was caught on camera threatening the vessel and firing weapons in the air. In the footage, the Coast Guard vessel can be seen traveling at high speed before the manoeuvre, apparently to prevent Ocean Viking from reaching the migrant boat. Gunshots are heard at one place.

“You can’t shoot at us. You can’t shoot at us. We’re leaving the water now,” a man on the Ocean Viking is saying.

Under threat, the Ocean Viking turned away while the Libyan coast guard intercepted the boat and “forcibly” took the migrants back to war-torn Libya, it said.

Seabird 2, a civilian surveillance aircraft owned by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Watch, reported sighting migrants who fell from the rubber boat before the Coast Guard recovered them.

Saturday’s incident was the latest report from European NGOs operating in the Mediterranean about threatening or violent behavior by the Libyan coast guard.

According to the group, the Coast Guard attempted in January to prevent an SOS Mediterranean fast boast from returning to Ocean Viking after a rescue operation. The boat managed to bring the rescued migrants back to the main vessel safely.

In October, Sea-Watch accused the Libyan Coast Guard of threatening to shoot down their surveillance aircraft Seabird.

Libya’s coast guard, trained and funded by the European Union, is part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants from the North African country towards Italian shores.

Libya has emerged in recent years as a major transit point for migrants seeking a better quality of life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed rebellion that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Human traffickers have profited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling migrants across the country’s long borders with six countries. The migrants are then packed into poorly equipped rubber boats and other vessels and set off on perilous sea voyages.

So far this year, some 20,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, according to Interior Ministry figures, far more than the 6,000 who arrived in the same period in each of the previous years.

Over the weekend alone, an estimated 3,000 migrants, many on small boats from the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, were rescued in the Mediterranean and headed for Italian ports, according to humanitarian rescue groups and news reports.


Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed.

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