NGO Vessels Halt Rescues Amid Direct Threats From Libyan Coastguard
Since Italy launched its controversial naval mission to Libya to curb the flow of migration to Europe in early August, in collaboration with Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, maritime drama off the coast of western Libya has increased. On 11 August, the GNA-affiliated Libyan coastguard announced the ‘closure’ of Libyan territorial waters and the ‘migrant rescue zone’ in international waters. On 12 and 13 August, three international NGOs – Medecins Sans Frontieres, Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye – responded by halting search and rescue operations off Libya saying that their crews could no longer work safely because of the hostile stance of the Libyan coastguard and its “explicit threat” against rescue operations. Libyan coastguard boats have previously clashed with NGO vessels and forced them to cease rescue operations, which they deem a key driver of illegal migration.
On 14 August, the Libyan coastguard intercepted the Golfo Azzurro, operated by Spanish humanitarian organisation Proactiva Open Arms, ordering it to sail to Tripoli or risk being targeted. According to a Reuters photographer on board the NGO vessel, 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,” said a man who identified himself as part of the Libyan coastguard, speaking in English. “Therefore I ask you to alter your course towards Tripoli port. If you do not obey the orders right now… you will be targeted,” the voice said. The Golfo Azzurro was then told to leave Libyan waters. It headed north, followed by the Libyan coastguard vessel.