SOS Mediterranee, a European humanitarian group that rescues asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean, has accused the Libyan coastguard of threatening their rescue ship and endangering their crew during a rescue operation.
Their ship Ocean Viking was trying to respond to a distress call from a migrant boat near the Libyan coast when they were fired at by the coastguard, according to the NGO, forcing the rescue craft to withdraw for its own safety.
The stranded migrants were then reportedly forced back to Libya.
This morning, @SOSMedIntl crew was threatened by guns by the EU-sponsored Libyan coastguard: #OceanViking was alerted to a rubber boat in distress in intl. waters off Libya by @alarm_phone. Patrol vessel 656 approached dangerously close, threatening the crew & shooting in the air pic.twitter.com/m1aKolRmjV
— SOS MEDITERRANEE (@SOSMedIntl) March 25, 2023
“In the morning of March 25, the Libyan coastguard, financed, equipped, and trained by European Union (EU) Member States, threatened the crew of the NGO rescue ship Ocean Viking with firearms before brutally intercepting approximately 80 people in distress in international waters,” SOS Mediterranee said in a statement released Saturday.
As the safety of the crew was under threat, the Ocean Viking sailed away from the scene at full speed, while the Libyan coastguard continued to fire shots,” they added.
This is the second time the Libyan coastguard has endangered the NGO’s vessels and crew, according to SOS Mediterranee. In January this year, the Libyan coastguard attempted to intervene as a rescue team was trying to return to their larger ship.
The New Arab has reached out to the Libyan embassy in London for comment.
Thousands of people from Libya attempt to cross the perilous Mediterranean Sea in dinghies or small boats to seek asylum in Europe. Hundreds die at sea.
This year, at least 410 people have died or are missing in the Mediterranean, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration.
The European Union controversially provides resources and funding to the Libyan coastguard, which is often used by Libyan authorities to prevent migrants from leaving their shores. They are kept in inhuman conditions in Libya, and frequently subject to abusive detention, torture, and sexual violence.