A non-profit sea rescue group has condemned Libyan authorities after it witnessed the coastguard apparently chasing a crowded migrant boat and shooting in its direction in an apparent effort to stop it from crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Members of the German non-governmental group Sea-Watch filmed the incident on Wednesday while flying over the area on an observation mission.
“Those who shoot at refugees and try to capsize their boats are not there to save them. The EU must immediately end co-operation with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard,” Felix Weiss was quoted saying in a statement from the group released with the video.
In the footage, a blue wooden boat with a small engine and at least two dozen people onboard is seen being followed in circles, at high speed, by the coastguard.
Yesterday #Seabird witnessed a brutal attack by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard deep in the Maltese SAR zone. Our video shows: Shots have been fired in the direction of the boat, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard tried to ram the boat several times and threw objects at people. pic.twitter.com/0C2YSmcPoO
— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) July 1, 2021
During the chase, which occurred in international waters under Malta’s search and rescue responsibility, men in uniform on the Libyan vessel can be seen firing at least two times towards the boat, with bullets hitting water close to the vessel. The Libyan coastguard comes dangerously close to crashing into the boat several times.
Sea-Watch said it communicated to the Libyan authorities by radio that they were endangering the lives of the people on the boat and urged them to stop shooting. The Libyan coastguard replied in broken English that they were trying to rescue the migrants.
The Sea-Watch aircraft was short on fuel and turned back before the chase ended, the statement said. It later received reports the boat had arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday morning.
The EU trains, equips and supports the Libyan coastguard to intercept people trying to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe. At least 723 people are known to have either died or gone missing taking this route on unseaworthy boats so far this year.
Nearly 15,000 men, women and children have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libyan shores from the start of the year up to June 26, a record number.
More than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe since 2014. The central Mediterranean stretch between Italy and Libya has seen an increase in attempted crossings and deaths this year after a lull during the height of the pandemic.
With EU support, the Libyan coastguard has stepped up interceptions of migrant boats, returning people onboard to Libya, but the UN and several other rights organisations have condemned their return to the war-torn country, where many are placed in detention centres at risk of abuse and torture.