Attackers Open Fire on Migrant Rescue Vessel

Argos in a rescue operation in 2015 (courtesy MSF)

By MarEx 2016-08-26 21:09:33

On Thursday, humanitarian relief organization Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that the chartered anchor handler Bourbon Argos was attacked and boarded by armed men the morning of August 17. 

The attack occurred 24 nm off the coast of Libya. The Argos has been conducting SAR missions to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean since May of last year.

The men approached in a speedboat and fired off shots towards the Argos from 500 meters out, then boarded the vessel. There were no refugees on board the vessel at the time of the attack, and the crew and aid staff retreated to a secure compartment. 

The men stayed aboard for approximately 50 minutes. They took nothing with them when they departed, and the only sign of damage was evidence of "several bullets shot."

Stefano Argenziano, the NGO's mission coordinator on board at the time of the attack, told the Guardian that the gunfire appeared to be aimed at crew. 

"They were not warning shots,” he said. “We received at least 13 bullets, hitting different parts of the bridge. People who were on the bridge . . . could have been killed or seriously harmed.”

“Although we don’t know the identity of the attackers or their motivation, our initial assessment of the facts shows that they were professional and well-trained,” Argenziano added in a statement. “This was a serious and worrying attack."

MSF says that its three partnered vessels in the Mediterranean – the Argos, the Dignity 1 and the Aquarius – rescued a total of 3,000 people from small craft between April and June of this year. 

It said in a statement that the attack would not deter its work and its other vessels would remain deployed in the Mediterranean. 

The Argos' master, Captain Ruslan Voznuk, described the anchor handler's unusual mission in an interview last year. He said that over the course of the summer of 2015, the Argos rescued 8,000 people – including one thousand migrants in one day. 

"We cannot remain indifferent to such situations, faced with all these people waiting to be rescued in makeshift boats and harsh weather conditions," Capt. Voznuk said. "But we keep a cool head at all times, putting aside our emotions: these operations require maximum concentration. Of course in my heart I feel things . . . But I cannot say more, I do my duty. We are well aware of the situation these people we are help are in, we know that all they want is to escape an extremely difficult life and we are pleased to rescue them at sea."