Libyan Coast Guard Threatens to Kill Migrant Rescue Team

Libyan Coast Guard vessel 648 (Proactiva Open Arms)

Published Mar 16, 2018 9:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, the maritime rescue NGO Proactiva Open Arms reported a potentially dangerous encounter with the Libyan Coast Guard. The group's vessel, the Open Arms, was operating 60 nm off the coast of Libya in international waters, and was engaged in a migrant rescue operation. A Libyan Coast Guard vessel arrived on scene and demanded that the NGO cease its rescue and hand over the migrants. 

Italian authorities had transferred on-scene command responsibility to the Libyan vessel, and according to journalists on board the Open Arms, the Libyan crew threatened to intervene with force. "If you do not give us the immigrants, we will kill you," the captain of the patrol boat warned by megaphone, according to Catalan outlet ARA. 

According to Judith Sutherland, the associate director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, the Libyan patrol boat was the same vessel involved in another intervention in November. Video from the scene shows that its hull number, 648, matches that of the vessel in the previous run-in. The boat was donated to Libyan forces by the Italian government, Sutherland wrote in a social media post. 

On Friday, Proactiva Open Arms reported that their vessel had been granted permission to enter the port of Pozzallo, Sicily. The NGO sought to enter port quickly to seek treatment for some of the migrants on board, but Italian authorities required the Open Arms' flag state to make a formal request first before they would allow the vessel to dock.