Humanitarian Vessels Intercepted: Libya Complicates Rescue Operations in the Med

Written by | Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

The Libyan coastguard intercepted a humanitarian rescue vessel in the Mediterranean and ordered it to sail to Tripoli or risk being targeted. This incident was another one in a series of operations by the Libyan coastguard, threatening ships of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate on the edge of Libyan waters with the aim to rescue migrants trying to cross the sea from Africa to Italy.

The rescue vessel “The Golfo Azzurro” was operated by the Spanish humanitarian organization Proactiva Open Arms and it was repeatedly contacted by a Libyan coastguard vessel: “You are sailing in our waters for months now and you are conducting activities that are causing problems to Libyan state sovereignty.” A member of the Libyan coastal guard also asked the staff on the Spanish vessel in English to “alter your course toward Tripoli port. If you do not obey the orders right now… you will be targeted”. The ship was then headed to leave the Libyan territorial waters followed by the Libyan coastal vessel.

Open Arms’ spokesperson commented that the vessel had been in international waters, 43 km off the Libyan coast, carrying our rescue operations. In response to these repeated incidents, three humanitarian organizations – Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and Germany’s Sea Eye – were forced to suspend migrant rescue operations at sea in the past week. Proactiva, however, commented that it would carry on with its work. There have been numerous incidents involving encounters between humanitarian vessels and the Libyan coastguard. Last year, a Doctors Without Borders rescue vessel had a hole blown in it after gunshots had been fired into the air several times.

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