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Libyan Militia Boats Fire Shots to Warn Off NGO Rescue Teams

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Image courtesy Sea-Eye / Twitter

By The Maritime Executive 2019-10-28 19:11:49

Speedboats flying the Libyan flag fired shots in an attempt to drive off volunteer rescue personnel during a SAR operation this Saturday, German NGO rescue group Sea-Eye reported. 

On Saturday moning, Sea-Eye's rescue vessel, the Alan Kurdi, received a report of migrants in distress just outside of Libyan territorial seas. The Kurdi and her crew arrived on scene and found a large overloaded raft. The Kurdi's responders distributed lifejackets to the passengers and had began to transfer them on board when two white speedboats arrived. Both were flying the Libyan flag, and one of the boats had a mounted machine gun towards the bow. The man operating the machine gun fired off several shots and gestured menacingly, according to the crew.

One Libyan boat took several of the migrants on board, but these rescuees soon jumped off again, likely a reflection of their reluctance to return to Libya. Despite the interference, the Alan Kurdi's crew was able to rescue over 90 people, and the Kurdi is now under way for Lampedusa, Italy. 

The Kurdi may have to wait before she can enter port and offload the rescuees. Migration is highly controversial in Europe, and the two most common destinations for the cross-Mediterranean route - Italy and Malta - impose restrictions on NGO-rescued arrivals. These states have reached a tentative agreement with Germany, France and Finland about apportioning new asylum seekers from Africa, but the plan will need to gain support from other EU member nations. 

In the meanwhile, new arrivals are handled on a case-by-case basis, with each rescue ship making a request for a port of refuge when it has taken on a large number of refugees. Rescue NGOs have criticized this improvised system for its slow pace, which results in longer wait times at sea for the survivors and lower ship availability in the rescue zone off Libya. As an example, the MSF / SOS Mediterranee vessel Ocean Viking is presently waiting to offload 104 rescuees, including two pregnant women and 41 minors. She has been in a holding pattern for the past 11 days.