A Libyan coast guard vessel rammed a boat carrying about 50 migrants just off the coast of Libya on Friday, partially sinking the vessel. Many of those on board were thrown into the Mediterranean Sea and had to swim to another Libyan ship to safety, a rescue team said.
It appears to be the latest reckless interception of migrants at sea by the Libyan coastguard, which is trained and funded by the European Union to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. Libya has emerged in recent years as the dominant transit point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
The German maritime rescue group Sea-Watch released a video showing the Libyan coast guard vessel approaching the dinghy, after which most of those on board fell into the water. Sea-Watch said the Libyan coastguard then transferred the migrants to another ship, a coastguard frigate.
EUROPEAN MIGRANT BOAT SINKS IRREVOCABLY OFF LIBYA, LEADING TO AT LEAST 55 DEATHS
There were no immediate reports of casualties or missing persons.
Sea-Watch, which conducts rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, said the coast guard had been chasing the rubber since early Friday morning before it hit its side.
From their twin-engine Seabird, Sea-Watch rescuers had repeatedly called on the Libyan coast guard to stop chasing the vessel, they said.
The Sea-Watch video, shot by the Seabird, shows the stranded migrants swimming towards the nearby frigate and sailors tossing them life jackets.
Those who remained in the sinking vessel were pulled to the frigate and boarded as well. A spokesman for the Libyan coast guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sea-Watch spokesman Felix Wiess told The Associated Press by phone that the incident occurred about 30 miles north of the western Libyan city of Zuwara.
A civilian rescue ship, the Louise Michel, arrived at the scene a short time later and asked to take the migrants, which the coast guard refused.
MIGRANTS TRAPPED AT TUNISIA-LIBYA BORDER TRANSPORTED BACK TO TUNISIA AFTER ENCOUNTERING DANGEROUS CONDITIONS
Since 2015, the EU has been funding Libya’s coast guard as part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants from the North African country to Italian shores.
Another rescue group, SOS Mediterranee, said in March that the Libyan coastguard fired warning shots at it as it tried to rescue migrants from an overcrowded ship. In October 2022, Sea-Watch said the coast guard threatened to shoot down its plane used to monitor the sea for smugglers and migrant ships.
Oil-rich Libya has been plunged into chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos in the North African country, smuggling migrants across Libya’s sprawling border, bringing them ashore and packing them into poorly equipped rubber boats and other vessels that then embark on perilous sea journeys.
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In recent months, rescue groups say Italy’s hardline government led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has made it difficult for humanitarian boats to operate. They say the government often assigns their ships to ports further north after a single rescue, which the groups say limits their ability to save lives.