ROME: Five migrants, including one young child, died Monday as result of a “violent, reckless” and “illegal” intervention by Libya’s coast guard in a rescue in international waters, a German charity group said. Sea Watch, one of several NGOs which operate search-and-rescue boats in the Mediterranean, said the lives had been lost needlessly due to heavy handed tactics of a coastguard being trained and financed by the European Union.
The German charity said its boat Sea-Watch 3 had been sent early Monday to the aid of a sinking dinghy by Italy’s coast guard and had arrived at the scene around the same time as a Libyan patrol boat.
A video obtained by Reuters showed how, during the rescue operation, some migrants tried jumping off the Libyan patrol boat which had rescued them to reach a ship of Seawatch, a German non-governmental organization, a few meters away.
Some screamed to be allowed to leave the Libyan boat as the German vessel came closer. The Libyans tried to discourage the migrants from trying to reach the German boat, Seawatch said.
According to the NGO, the Libyans began “beating and threatening” the migrants on the stricken boat, provoking panic that caused some to fall overboard.
The patrol boat then tried to move off with people still clinging to its sides, prompting the intervention of an Italian navy helicopter to try and calm the situation.
“Probably, nobody would have had to die today if only we had the possibility to operate reasonably in a calm environment,” Sea Watch head of mission Johannes Bayer said.
“These deaths have to be blamed on the Libyan coast guard who have obstructed a safe rescue with their brutal behavior.
“European governments finally have to draw conclusions from this incident and stop the collaboration with the Libyan coast guard.”
Sea Watch said the rescue had taken place 30 nautical miles north of Tripoli, well outside Libyan territorial waters. The Libyan boat took an unknown number of migrants back to the north African state while 58 survivors were on board the Sea-Watch 3.
A Libyan coast guard commander, Abu Ajala Amer Abdel-Bari, said the German NGO had undermined its rescue operations by approaching its boat.
European efforts to beef up the Libyan coast guard have been cited as one reason for a sharp fall in the number of migrants leaving Libya for Italy on traffickers’ boats since mid-July, although there have been signs of a pickup in activity off Libya since the start of this month.
Some 2,500 migrants have been rescued and brought to Italy so far this month, along with the bodies of 26 mainly Nigerian women recovered at the weekend.