In the morning of March 25, the Libyan coastguard, financed, equipped, and trained by European Union (EU) Member States, threatened the crew of NGO rescue ship Ocean Viking with firearms before brutally intercepting approximately 80 people in distress in international waters.
Earlier today, the rescue ship Ocean Viking, chartered and run by SOS MEDITERRANEE, was alerted to a boat in distress in international waters off Libya by civil emergency hotline Alarm Phone. While proceeding to the distress case, the Libyan coastguard patrol vessel 656 arrived on the scene, dangerously approaching the Ocean Viking. All attempts by the bridge’s team to contact the Libyan coastguard vessel via VHF went unanswered while the crew of the Libyan coastguard patrol vessel started behaving aggressively, threatening with guns and firing gunshots in the air.
As the safety of the crew was under threat, the Ocean Viking sailed away from the scene at full speed, while the Libyan coastguard continued to fire shots. Civil surveillance aircraft Seabird 2, operated by the NGO Sea Watch, monitored the distress case. Seabird 2 later confirmed spotting people fallen overboard from the rubber boats, and recovered afterwards. A total of approximately 80 people were eventually intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and forcibly returned to Libya.
It is the second time this year that SOS MEDITERRANEE has witnessed the Libyan coastguard actively endangering the safety of people in distress at sea as well as the SOS MEDITERRANEE crew. In January, the Libyan coastguard interfered with an ongoing rescue operation by preventing the Search and Rescue team onboard our fast rescue boat to return to the mothership. Fortunately, the survivors and crew could finally embark on the Ocean Viking.
A deadly first quarter of the year has been reached with at least 410 people dead or missing in the central Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. Reports of devastating shipwrecks have recently shaken public opinion. Yet, all that can be heard now in response to the continuous loss of life in the central Mediterranean is gunshots, fired by assets financed and trained by European Union (EU) Member States.
SOS MEDITERRANEE condemns this escalation of violence and the deliberate compromising of our crew and shipwrecked people’s safety in the central Mediterranean by the EU-sponsored Libyan coastguard. A humanitarian response in the central Mediterranean in accordance with International and maritime law is long overdue.
Credits: Christian Gohdes/Sea-Watch.org