Libyan Navy Patrol Fired "Warning Shots" at Aid Ship

Bourbon Argos engaged in rescue operations, 2015 (courtesy MSF)

Published Aug 30, 2016 9:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem acknowledged that one of the force's patrol boats had opened fire in the direction of the chartered anchor handler Bourbon Argos on August 17. 

He asserted that the patrol believed the Argos was involved in smuggling, and that when pursued, the Argos failed to respond to radio calls and altered her heading, prompting the forces to fire warning shots. 

"The boat was spotted in international waters and it's known to be an oil smuggling route, so that's why our coastal guards had to intercept it," Qassam told Reuters. "The guards shot in the air to warn them but because our boat is small and was swaying due to heavy waves there might have been a hit to their boat."

Qassam said that the shots were not intentionally aimed at the Argos’ superstructure. He added in a statement to Radio France that the naval patrol did not board the Argos. 

The Argos is chartered to NGO aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres for the purpose of rescuing migrants off Libya’s shores. 

MSF operations coordinator Stefano Argenziano said that some of the shots hit the Argos' wheelhouse and could have resulted in injuries to the crew. No rescued refugees were on board at the time of the attack.

In addition to shots fired, MSF said that the armed force boarded the Argos and stayed aboard for 50 minutes, then left without taking anything. The crew retreated to the Argos' citadel for the duration of the boarding and were not harmed. 

MSF says that since the beginning of the SAR season in April, its teams on the vessels Argos, Dignity 1 and Aquarius have rescued over 11,000 people in 85 operations. 

Libya's prime minister, Fayez al-Serraj, appealed to the EU for aid in training the nation's maritime security forces in May. The European Union approved the request in June and added military training to the mission of Operation Sophia, the EU naval operation off the coast of Libya tasked with rescuing migrants and combating human smuggling. Libyan and EUNAVFOR commanders signed a final memorandum of understanding on the training program August 23, six days after the Argos incident.