On Monday, the Libyan Coast Guard reportedly fired at two rescue boats belonging to the NGO, SOS Mediterranée in international waters, endangering the lives of dozens of migrants and crew members. This incident took place on 7 June, during a rescue operation in international waters off the Libyan coast.
The rescue vessel, Ocean Viking, was engaged in a mission to aid a boat in distress carrying 11 individuals, 120 kilometers away from Khums, in northwest Libya. This rescue operation was carried out under the coordination of the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), despite the Ocean Viking already having 47 rescued migrants onboard from a previous mission.
Amidst these operations, the Libyan Coast Guard allegedly approached the rescue boats and began firing shots into the air, dangerously close to the vessels. This incident, reported by SOS Mediterranée via Twitter, “put the lives of the crew and the rescued individuals at considerable risk.”
Following the incident, all individuals were safely transported to the port of Civitavecchia, Italy, and no injuries were reported. However, the event has stoked concerns over the safety of such rescue operations, and the actions of the Libyan Coast Guard.
Notably, the patrol vessel involved in the shooting incident was identified as an ex-Italian Finance Guard boat. This boat was donated to Libya as part of the European Union’s initiative “Support to Integrated Border and Migration Management in Libya.” While this program aims to bolster the Libyan authorities’ capabilities in managing borders and migration, it has been mired in controversy. Critics argue that the Libyan Coast Guard’s actions often contravene international law, intercepting migrants and illegally returning them to Libya, where they face well-documented human rights abuses.
This incident reiterates concerns over the complicity of Libyan authorities, in the widespread human rights violations against migrants. The United Nations Human Rights Council has previously documented collusion between high-ranking members of the Libyan Coast Guard and human traffickers, allegations that remain unaddressed by Libyan officials. This incident brings renewed attention to these concerns, and underscores the urgent need for scrutiny and reform.