The violent and reckless behavior of Libyan Coast Guards has caused at least five deaths on the Central Mediterranean Sea this morning, as the crew of the Sea-Watch 3 was called to their first rescue mission by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. A helicopter of the Italian Navy had to intervene to prevent more fatalities. 58 people are now safe aboard the Sea-Watch 3, despite all efforts, our medical team was not able to revive an infant in our clinic. The Libyan Coast Guards forced a few of the passengers on their vessel and took them back in direction Libya. By interfering in the rescue operation, the Libyans clearly violated international law: The incident took place at 30 nm off the coast, in international waters far outside of Libyan territorial waters.
At approx. 7 am, the crew aboard Sea-Watch 3 received a call of Rome MRCC. North of Tripoli a sinking inflatable boat in international waters had sent a distress call. The Sea-Watch 3 crew arrived on location at about the same time as a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat and started boarding of people in distress. The Libyan Coast Guard approached the boat as well and took over people from aboard the boat, however beating and threatening them. Onboard panic started and a numerous refugees fell overboard. The Libyan ship took off with inappropriate speed while people were still latching onto the side, being dragged by their vessel. After Sea-Watch had already repeadtedly alarmed the Libyans about their life-threatening practice, an Italian Navy helicopter had to intervene, briefly stopping the Libyan ship, to prevent further deadly maneuvering. At least 5 people were killed in the boat’s sinking, among them a child whom the medical crew onboard Sea-Watch 3 was not able to reanimate.
“Probably, nobody would have had to die today if only we had the possibility to operate reasonably in a calm environment. Instead of coordinating the rescue operation with the vessels present such as a ship of the French Navy, the Libyans tried to take as many people as possible back to Libya – and accepted the loss of several lives”, says head of mission Johannes Bayer. “These deaths have to be blamed on the Libyan Coast Guards who have obstructed a safe rescue with their brutal behavior. The responsability is on the side of the European Union, however, who trains and finances these militias. They act in the EU’s will. The European governments finally have to draw conclusions from this incident and stop the collaboration with the Libyan Coast Guards. The EU has to stop to rate migration control higher than human rights!”
Libyan Coast Guards have clearly breached international law by bringing an unknown number of people onboard their vessel, probably with the goal to take them back to Libya. “We were at high seas, outside of libyan territorial waters, about 30 nm north of Tripoli – even outside of the consecutive zone. There, the Libyans have no sovereign rights whatsoever”, says Sea-Watch captain Pia Klemp.
Almost a year ago, October 21 2016, in a similar disastrous event many people died when, during a rescue operation of Sea-Watch 2, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard had tried to displace refugees back to Libya from international waters.
All 58 survivors are now safe aboard the Sea-Watch 3.
Photos: Lisa Hoffmann / Sea-Watch